The New Theatre is finished -- finished! -- with this critic.

Scarlet Letters 

The New Theatre is finished -- finished! -- with this critic.

Critics and theater owners aren't supposed to be bosom buddies. But the fractious nature of my relationship with the New Theatre's artistic director, Dennis Hennessy, and president, Richard Carrothers, may have reached some kind of nadir.

Angered over what they believed were my incompetent reviews of New Theatre shows, Hennessy and Carrothers pulled my press passes in the spring of 2000.

I've since paid my own way to New Theatre shows; some of the resulting reviews have been negative, some positive. But now the ugly situation is seemingly irreparable and involves an attorney and a collection of people who proudly call themselves "Pimpies."

Pimpies are rabid fans of Frank Wildhorn's The Scarlet Pimpernel. They travel the country like Grateful Dead devotees, mesmerized by the swashbuckling musical about spies during the French revolution. (One member of the League, as Pimpies collectively call themselves, posted a note on the group's Web site raving about being able to go "Back for number 22!") And since my July 25 review of Pimpernel at the New Theatre, Pimpies in faraway states have suddenly become Pitch readers. I wrote that the leads had fine voices but the score suffered from a lack of pretty melodies, that the lyrics were trite and that Wildhorn's music tended toward bombast. I was impressed, however, by Gregory Hill's set and Kimberly Wick and Mary Traylor's costumes.

Nonetheless, the League site's message board contains a post under the header "New Theatre Review 'Write a Letter.'" The writer rallies fellow Pimpies to send letters to the Pitch questioning my credentials and knowledge of the material. Devotees of Pimpernel lead actor Ron Bohmer seem to have gotten wind of the review as well. One such fan writes to the Pitch from Concord, California: "Mr. Walker appears to have not only attention deficit disorder but an inordinately prejudiced attitude toward musical theater.... These performers were professionals. It's a pity you don't employ one to manage your reviews."

Then another letter arrived from a Virginia Pimpie.

"I had the horrendous honor of being at the table next to Mr. Walker," the Pimpie wrote. "I was extremely disappointed by his manners and his courtesy toward his fellow theatre patrons. [He] and his companion talked loudly throughout the ENTIRE performance -- no wonder they didn't like it."

Actually, my friend liked the show quite a bit and doesn't recall any conversations during the performance. The Pimpie was certain I'd made up my mind about the show after Act One because I "rather loudly voiced [my] opinion on the worth of the show during intermission." But we were outside having a cigarette during intermission.

Still, this letter -- which never ran in the Pitch -- and a similar one the Virginia Pimpie wrote to the New Theatre represented the last straw for Hennessy and Carrothers, who proceeded to sic the law firm Stinson Morrison Hecker on me.

"Please be advised that Mr. Walker is no longer welcomed at the New Theatre Restaurant," wrote the theater's attorney, Stewart M. Stein, in an August 9 certified letter to Pitch editor C.J. Janovy. "Should he ever attempt to attend a performance, he will be asked to vacate, and if he does not voluntarily do so the authorities will be contacted."

So much for taking Mom to Aspirins and Elephants.

More due diligence, however, would have revealed that the Virginia Pimpie offered differing accounts of how she even knew who I was. The discrepancy might raise suspicions about her own credibility in front of a jury.

In her first letter to the Pitch, the Virginia Pimpie says she "overheard [my] name mentioned [and] made a note of it anticipating a negative review of the show." In her letter to the New Theatre, however, she claimed to be "aware it was one of the press nights and this gentelmen [sic] had a media kit at his table." After the show, she says, "I looked at the 'welcome' card on the table to find out what his name was."

Still, the Pimpie's story was all Hennessy and Carrothers needed to make a run at something they've been trying to do for a long time: Force the Pitch to send someone else to review their shows.

In a November 2000 letter to the Pitch, Hennessy and Carrothers wrote of my "ignorance of theater as a craft." My "inept reviews," they said, "only point out [my] lack of knowledge in what a director contributes to the art form, the responsibility of an actor in the interpretation of the play, and the role of designers in enhancing the intent of the playwright." They concluded that the Pitch "only demeans its credibility by continuing to employ Walker as its theater critic."

Hennessy and Carrothers say the current complaint has nothing to do with the content of my reviews. It's about my alleged bad behavior, and they say I'm being treated no differently from any other patron who guzzles bottles and bottles of wine, chortles loudly at the characters' breeches and leotards and is pretty much an asshole.

Stein writes that even though I'm banned from New Theatre performances, he is "hopeful that other members of [the Pitch] staff, who we are sure will know how to conduct themselves in an appropriate and professional manner, will attend performances."

Unfortunately, that just means there will be no more reviews of New Theatre shows in the Pitch. I have it on good authority that absolutely no one in the editorial department knows how to behave in public.

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