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'White Muscle Daddy' by Raf Antonio

Now onstage at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto.

Credit: Jeremy Mimnagh. Pictured in profile: Frankie Bailey and Jaime Lujan

Joe Szekeres

‘There are moments when the script is clever in its deceptive title. Although it might initially mean what you think it does, there’s an entirely new understanding at the end.’

Raf Antonio’s ‘White Muscle Daddy’ is a horror/thriller ‘film within a film within a play’. My guest and I discussed it intently on the way home.

Antonio is bang-on about using the screen format within a play setting. Live and pre-recorded film and video footage are used throughout. Antonio is both clever and perceptive about developing this hybrid use further. Why? Our lives today are intently focused on the screen, whether we are watching a film, sitting in front of our computers for work and careers, or sometimes simply passing the time away on YouTube (I’m guilty of that) or TikTok (Don’t have an account. Don’t want one).

Because I don’t want to spoil the surprises behind ‘White Muscle Daddy,’ I will do my best not to give away too much.

The press release states that ‘White Muscle Daddy’ uses projection art, live camera feed, and shadow play…to subvert cinema/film and theatre expectations.

Was that achieved?

More about that shortly.

‘White Muscle Daddy’ is set in Los Angeles, primarily in an exclusive gym. There are moments when we are shown gorgeous photographs of the LA sunset night sky and extraordinary photos of what I assume to be at least $ 3 million US dollar homes. Appreciation to Nicole Eun-Ju Bell, Connie Oreamuno and Khanh Tudo for the specific hours of work that had to be done to search for these photos and then do magic in any editing for specific effects. Alia Stephen’s sometimes perfect lighting design effect underscores the strong visual impact of looking at the photos from where my guest and I sat far stage left.

The appearance of camera operators Khanh Tudo and Katerina Zoumboulakis (I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone) was also effective because the LA paparazzi are everywhere with their paraphernalia. It appears that in LA life, to be somebody, one must always be on camera. The notion of privacy is thrown out the window. Cat Calica’s costume selection perfectly reflect the style and finesse of each of the characters.

There were moments in the pre-recorded or actual backstage footage where the sound was not aligned precisely when the characters spoke on screen. It was just a split second out of alignment, but it did bring me momentarily out of the scene. Can that also be looked at?

In her set design, Echo Zhou places three separate riser platforms on far stage right, middle and far stage left to denote various LA locales. For sight line purposes, Zhou made a good choice to allow for maximum sight line view; however, there were moments when the action took place far stage right, and I could not hear the dialogue as I sat far stage left. The speaker on my right did not appear to amplify the sound, and I could not hear the dialogue. Hopefully, sound designer Stella Conway will be able to fix this going forward with future show performances.

At the top of the show, we are watching the filming of one of the Grade B slasher horror flicks. Performer Augusto Bitter plays Stuart in the film. Stuart is reading a book and waiting for the arrival of their boyfriend to come home. In true horror film ‘Scream’ fashion, there are some nifty surprises for the audience that I don’t want to give away. It appears Bitter was having a hell of a good time in the pre-recorded filming.

The film's director, Lucy (Chel Carmichael), enters the stage. Chel Carmichael’s Lucy is direct and confident in scenes with the filming. Carmichael’s Lucy is also connected to the rest of the characters in the play’s script.

The central story involves Jeremy (Jaime Lujan), an impressionable individual newly hired to work the graveyard shift at the gym. Jeremy’s co-worker Thomas (Shaquille Pottinger) shows Jeremy the ropes of the gym. Thomas was moving out of the gym as he had found another job. One night, Jeremy sees and becomes smitten with Eugene (Ray Jacildo), a fitness instructor who appears to have the kind of LA life Jeremy has always wanted: muscles, good looks, and enviable LA parties. Jeremy’s ‘crush’ on Eugene begins to play havoc.

Jeremy begins this insatiable hunger for Eugene and wants to know everything about the dude. Jeremy’s choice to follow the secret desire to know more about Eugene wreaks chaos in his relationship with his partner, Gustavo (Frankie Bayley). In turn, Gustavo looks to Lucy for moral support whenever their relationship with Jeremy appears on the rocks. In a heated moment of passion between Jeremy and Gustavo, the former says something to the latter that is downright nasty and cruel, which begins to alter the course of events not only in their lives but also in those in the story.

The question remains right to the end—who is Eugene? Something about this character spells trouble for everyone involved.

Directors Raf Antonio and Tricia Hagoriles have selected a diverse cast in their appearance and voice sound. That was another wise choice. For some reason, whenever I hear the name ‘Los Angeles,’ I immediately begin to think of plastic-looking people who are ‘practically perfect in every way’ (as Mary Poppins sang), from their looks to their sexuality and gender. Antonio and Hagoriles have selected real, natural, and ordinary-looking actors who commit themselves to showcase the two-hour and fifteen-minute running time (sans interval/intermission) with intent and focus.

Once again, in the press release, Antonio (as one of the directors) spoke of "taking the tropes of the horror film genre and mashing them together to create an experience that will leave audiences chuckling, a little spooked, a little provoked...”

Did that vision of mashing create an experience that left me chuckling, spooked, and a little provoked?


Yes and No.

Directors Antonio and Hagoriles ensured the performers captured the Grade B horror film (over) acting from the sixties and seventies. In watching the pre-recorded film on stage during the performance, I recognized some similar recoiling in horror moments akin to the Vincent Prince scream films and Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho.' That left me chuckling. A couple of captured moments left me a tad spooked, but I hesitate to explain what it is because that would give away the surprise I didn’t see coming at all. All I will say - when it does appear, I had to avert my eyes quickly.

It’s the word ‘provoked’ that I want to explore just a bit further.

The script and the actors did provoke a bit of squeamishness within me so they succeeded on that account. There is one moment on film when I felt myself just scrunching my face up and putting my head down because it is a tad sickening.

But I do have some quibbles.

Is it possible for Antonio’s script to be re-examined again? I found it too long to sit for two hours and 15 minutes. There are moments where moments need to be tightened especially in moving from film to the stage. With no breaks at all, the production makes for uncomfortable sitting. A few got up around me to go and then return. Getting up and down is distracting both in the film and the theatre, but I get it – rarely are there intermissions in films. The directors have captured that vision.

But if I go to the cinema and have to use the washroom during a long film, I quickly leave the hall, run to do my business and then get back to my seat. That’s not always possible in the theatre.

This leads me to explain further the hybrid approach of combining cinema/film and theatre. It’s an exciting concept that deserves to be explored further on the stage. The press release calls ‘White Muscle Daddy’ a cinematic theatre thriller. Antonio says in the release that horror can be a malleable genre, and it is rarely performed on the stage.

It’s not malleable here for me at this performance. Not quite yet.

I hope a re-examination of the script and another staging might just do the trick.

Running time: approximately two hours and 15 minutes with no intermission. Masks are required to be worn for the performance.

‘White Muscle Daddy’ runs until March 31 at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, Toronto. For tickets: or call (416) 975-8555.

Presents ‘White Muscle Daddy’ by Raf Antonio

Produced by Claren Grosz

Directors: Raf Antonio and Tricia Hagoriles

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