The only surprise about Sonia Jackson’s one-woman show, “I’m Gonna Fly,” at the West Coast Ensemble is that its heroine, Bessie Coleman, hasn’t been the subject of a play before. Not only was she a black woman who went to college before 1920, but she had to go to Europe to follow her dreams.

And what dreams. Not the painter’s, or poet’s or physicist’s life for Coleman. No, she realized her hopes of being an aviator. When she returned to the States in 1921, there wasn’t even a black man in her line of work.

Among inspirational stories, this is a natural--perhaps too natural. Playwright Steve Barnes has adopted every cliche of the solo historical figure show (already a hobbled genre), from the schematic intercutting of tragic and happy scenes to the incessant verbalizing of a character’s inner thoughts.

But the most obvious conceit here is the show’s narrative framework: Coleman’s life flashes before her eyes as she falls through the sky from her plane, without a parachute.


Cliches aren’t the only problem. Jackson, with Bibi Besch directing, delivers an under-rehearsed surface interpretation, and Rolande Guizart’s set suggests a garage draped in parachute material. There’s a subject here, but this is the wrong show for it.

Performances at 6240 Hollywood Blvd. Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 4 p.m., until Oct . 10. Tickets: $10-$12; (213) 285-8697.