Men aren’t supposed to be sad. This irksome idea flits uncomfortably through Ian Kamau‘s consciousness as he reflects on the very sadness that has marked his life and informed this latest performance—Loss. Produced by The Theatre Centre and presented as part of Luminato Festival Toronto, this moody piece is episodic and meandering. Where it lacks directional momentum, it offers up a gentle, quietly compelling introspection.
Featuring poetry by himself and his father, Roger McTair, Kamau places his own experience of depression and healing within the context of family and community. Through anecdotal reflections, projected video footage of interviews with family and the environments that have shaped him; he reaches back through generations to unpack his familial history.
The artistry of the text is subtle, so slight and mindful it almost feels like tentative, improvised speech. But patterns emerge, ideas accumulate and build upon each other gradually. The death of his paternal grandmother Nora Elutha Rogers, figures prominently. His Afro-Caribbean heritage, communal grief, an awareness of generational through-lines—these inform his self-perception.
Grooming is so intimate and familiar. Some of my favourite footage is of hands trimming another’s hair—a careful, affectionate offering to an elder. The white, bristling tufts; the crinkles and folds of age in faces and hands—these have a deeply moving cumulative effect.
Kamau surrounds himself with a small team of musical collaborators—Bruce A. Russell (piano and synth), Dennis Passley (Tenor Saxophone), and Dyheim Stewart (guitar)—who help shape the evocative, immersive atmosphere. The music feels organic and necessary throughout; it drifts through the text, more intimate and knowing than mere accompaniment.
A warm circle of family and friends are seating directly in front of Kamau and the musicians. There’s a palpable aura of love and support emanating from the centre of the venue, radiating outward as an invitation to acknowledge and share in the vibes.
Kamau has keen insight into how neighbourhoods feel and what they represent. Several Toronto locations figure into his storytelling and I appreciated the opportunity to understand them in a new context. Loss draws the audience in assuredly and, though it often feels adrift in self-reflection, his attentive examination of people and places gives this tone poem persuasive resonance.