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By Anthony Letizia

How does someone continue to pay their bills after losing their job during tough economic times? The webseries medium has offered a variety of approaches that are as original and creative as the narratives themselves. In Saving Rent, for instance, advertising agent Mike decides to rent out rooms in his plush Los Angeles home in order to pull in some extra cash. In Odd Jobs, investment banker Nate Brooks scrutinizes the listings on Craigslist for offbeat sources of income. The former white collar employees of Bad Crooks, meanwhile, go to even more extremes when they turn to a life of crime. Although they do not find success, their capers are filled with enough comic twists and turns to keep even the most financially desperate amongst us entertained nonetheless.

“We’ve been unemployed for two years,” it is explained in the opening credits of each episode of Bad Crooks. “We could be criminals… we’re fast learners… how hard could it be?” The group of seven former office workers thus take on aliases and make numerous attempts to embrace the dark side of the law but inevitably find it more difficult than expected. Creator Gregory Jones portrays the Mastermind of the gang but the ensemble cast also includes Rob Gorden as Fingers, Tara Copeland as Eagle Eye, Eric Deskin as Crazy, Darin Guerrasio as USB and Brian Hotaling as Vroom. Separately they were mail room workers, HR assistants, data entry clerks and accountants but together they are simply “bad crooks.”

In the episode “Bank Robbery,” for instance, the gang attempts to steal money from an ATM machine but run into difficulties when USB has difficulty disabling the security camera and “hacker” Fingers fails to show up at the crime scene. “I just need cash, credit cards. And give me your information and I promise I’ll reimburse you once I get back on my feet,” Vroom tells a woman in the episode “Metro Mugging” before she sprays him with mace. The intended target goes on to explain that the would-be thieves should have worn masks and brought along a weapon before turning the tables and robbing them instead.

In “Spam Scam,” meanwhile, the gang takes turns sending out e-mails in which they claim to be Nigerian royalty in need of assistance, operators of celebrity porn websites, sellers of sexual organ enlargement medication and mothers of illegitimate children. Lastly, “Taxi Takedown” features an elaborate plot involving multiple teams of the crooks in an effort to rob a taxi cab. “This is not what we used to do,” the Mastermind tells the others. “This is not copying, this is not Power Point. This is crime. This is not Excel, this is crime. And we are going to excel at crime.” In the end, however, they fail in this endeavor just like all of the others.

Actor Gregory Jones crafted Bad Crooks as a vehicle to not only showcase his thespian abilities but his improv skills as well. Thus while the premise and initial dialogue for the episodes were crafted by Jones, a large segment of each installment was left for the improvisational talents of not only the creator but the other six actors as well. Bad Crooks likewise does not feature any sort of overarching narrative tying the episodes together. Although these two factors could easily transform Bad Crooks into a handful of short skits rather than a distinct show, in actuality the concept gels in much the same way that Fourplay in LA and Anti-Matter utilized unrelated episodes to form a coherent webseries.

Bad Crooks is not the first entry into the medium to utilize improvisation within its creation. The Bitter End, for instance, was crafted from the improv theater performances of Dan Beirne, Etan Muskat and Brent Skagford. Just as the Montreal-based production benefited from the already built-in chemistry between its actors, the same holds true for Bad Crooks. The seven actors who portray the wannabe criminals originally appeared together in the even more improvisational Corporate Knobs. That webseries features Gregory Jones and the others as male chauvinist corporate executives who utter detrimental gender-related remarks that even Michael Scott from the NBC sitcom The Office would find offensive.

“I don’t know why the sexual harassment seminar has to be led by someone so ugly,” the Jones character remarks in one episode, only to have a colleague reply, “Couldn’t we get someone harassable?”

The experience of performing together on Corporate Knobs obviously benefited the group of actors during the filming of Bad Crooks as the mixture of scripted and improv are seamlessly integrated into each installment. Filming the webseries through the lenses of security and web cameras enhances the overall authenticity and originality of the narrative, while the situations of the comedy likewise adds to the humor and enjoyment of the episodes.

A lot of good people have found themselves unemployed in recent years due to the economic downturn facing both the nation and the world. While renting out spare rooms in one’s home like Mike in Saving Rent or finding untraditional means of employment like Nate in Odd Jobs may indeed bring in extra cash, the lessons of Bad Crooks should not be forgotten—going from salesman to criminal may seem easy and fun but is actually a lot harder than it looks. The same also holds true for creating a webseries, despite the ease that Gregory Jones and his cohorts make it appear.

————Anthony Letizia

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Brian Hotaling is “Brilliant” says The Record-Review

Too Old, Too Fast, Too Funny

Michael Millius, The Record-Review, March 26, 2010; pg. 17

“…Brian Hotaling’s Buddy, the dad, is so pervasive that it’s all the more obvious how brilliant his work is, gliding his character through such dramatic transitions as from Buddy the helpless drunk to Buddy of post-rehab, looking doofy in a che’f’s hat, making dinner….”

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New York Times loves Kimberly Akimbo!

Amazing reviews for Kimberly Akimbo at the Schoolhouse Theater!  New York Times full article here or read below.

Theater Review | Westchester

Playing a Game of ‘Who’s the Adult Here?’

Published: March 11, 2010

One question has to be going through audience’s minds during “Kimberly Akimbo” at the Schoolhouse Theater: How old is Ruth Reid?

Ron Marotta

(IM)MATURITYThe cast of “Kimberly Akimbo” includes Ruth Reid, Israel Gutierrez and Brian Hotaling.

For once, this is a question an actress would want you to ask — or at least wonder about. Ms. Reid plays Kimberly, a typical teenager in many ways. She pouts when her father is late to pick her up. She kind of likes Jeff (Israel Gutierrez), the shy classmate who works at Zippy Burger. Playing Dungeons and Dragons, she adores the gore. (“They tore out my throat. Cool!”) Kimberly’s problem is that she has the body of a 60- or 70-year-old woman.

The cause is not a wacky brain transfer like the one in “Freaky Friday” or in “Prelude to a Kiss.” It’s not a child’s wish granted too soon like the one in “Big.” It’s an honest-to-goodness disease similar to progeria, one that causes children to age at four and a half times the normal rate. Average life expectancy is 16, and Kimberly has just reached that birthday.

Would that the shadow of death were her only problem. David Lindsay-Abaire, who wrote “Kimberly Akimbo,” which was presented by the Manhattan Theater Club in New York in 2003, knows that no one’s life is simple and that human beings aren’t always that nice. (Consider his other work, like the Pulitzer Prize-winner “Rabbit Hole,” which focused on parental grief over a little boy’s death.) This simultaneously sweet and biting production, ably directed by Raymond Munro, keeps the comedy coming, but it never lets us forget that Kimberly’s parents are seriously deranged.

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CT Post rave review of Kimberly Akimbo

Read full review here or see below.

She’s growing old before her time: ‘Kimberly Akimbo’ at The Schoolhouse Theater

By David Begelman, THEATER CRITIC
Published: 06:43 p.m., Friday, March 12, 2010

Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire has a penchant for relying on quirky human failings to get the action rolling in his dramas. In “Fuddy Meers” it was psychogenic amnesia forcing its heroine to face each day with a fresh slate. In “Wonder of the World” it was a husband’s sexual fetishism for Barbie dolls.

In “Kimberly Akimbo,” which is being staged at the Schoolhouse Theater, the blight is dysfunctional family dynamics heightened by a daughter’s disease — she’s growing old at four-and-a-half times the usual rate. At 16, Kimberly looks like a woman well into her seniority, a Benjamin Button in reverse.

Lindsay-Abaire has a gift for infusing metaphor into any pitfall of existence that has his characters taking life detours to accommodate its brutish reality. In the play, Kimberly’s parents harbor a secret about the mother’s new pregnancy that haunts family life since the clan fled Secaucus, N.J., for Bogota, N.J. The secret is yet another family concession to Kimberly’s condition, although one among several that has her complaining volubly, “I’m not dead yet!”

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North County News reviews Kimberly Akimbo

Another amazing review for Kimberly Akimbo!

Stellar acting lifts loopy ?Kimberly Akimbo?

By Bruce Apar

CROTON FALLS — When was the last time, on screen or on stage, a simple, tentative kiss brought tears to your eyes? It happens in The Schoolhouse Theater’s staging of “Kimberly Akimbo” by David Lindsay-Abaire.

Lindsay-Abaire is the clever, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who has made a name for himself through a rare talent for tackling thorny topics with both pathos and provocative humor.

In this work, his plot conceit is a 16-year-old girl whose genetic disease causes her to age 4-1/2 times faster than normal, so her physiognomy is that of a 70-year-old.

Kimberly Levaco is surrounded on the compact and totally utilitarian Schoolhouse stage by a certifiably wacko mother, Patty, who’s both pregnant and a hypochondriac; a teddy bear of a father, Buddy, who can’t get out of his own way; a crass and criminal but doting Aunt Debra; and geeky classmate and fellow outcast Jeff, who has a thing for anagrams, Dungeons & Dragons and, after a fashion, for Kimberly.

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  • All materials copyrighted Brian Hotaling 2010