by Lynn on February 14, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Playing until Feb. 18, 2023.

Written and performed by Beryl Bain

Directed by Marcel Stewart

Set by Michael Gordon Spence

Costume design by Des’ree Gray

Lighting by Shawn Henry

Sound by Floydd Ricketts

Projections by Jason J. Brown

Playwright/performer Beryl Bain and her director, Marcel Stewart have presented an intriguing dip into the eventful but short life of Bessie Coleman, the first Black-Indigenous American woman to get her pilot’s license. She took that love of flying and performed at various fairs and exhibitions.

Bessie Coleman was born in 1892 to sharecroppers. Her father left the family which meant that Bessie had to take care of her little sister, which their mother earned a living. Her mother taught Bessie about tenacity, responsibility, and the value of work.

Playwright Beryl Bain focused her play The Flight in the Roaring 20s with its heady atmosphere and endless possibilities.

The play begins with a projection of a newsreel of Bessie Coleman standing beside a plane. As the commentator talks about Bessie there is a commotion in the theatre where we are watching the newsreel. A woman in breeches, a fitted jacket and hair tied back gets up objecting to what we are watching, saying that isn’t the real Bessie Coleman, that’s an actress. The woman making the fuss says she is the real Bessie Coleman (Beryl Bain). She goes up onto the stage and begins to tell us of her life.

Director Marcel Stewart  uses a simple ladder to suggest those scenes where Bessie flies. Beryl Bain as Bessie climbs the ladder, sits on the top of it and Jason J. Brown’s various projections of Bessie flying are projected on the back wall. The projections create a great sweep of the sky and the freedom Bessie must have felt being up there.

Beryl Bain is a commanding presence as Bessie Coleman. Coleman had a patron who helped with funding that got her to Paris where she got her pilot’s license. She performed for the public by flying. She survived one crash. She saved money working at a manicurist so she could buy her own plane. She was finally successful in having her own plane but it was faulty and she crashed during a show in Florida in 1926, and didn’t survive. She was 34.

I say at the beginning that this is an intriguing dip into the life of Bessie Coleman because what Beryl Bain has written and explored seems to skim the surface. She has whetted our appetite for more information and I hope she expands her play. I’d like to know more about Bessie Coleman’s parents and especially her absent father. What did Bessie study at university when she went for a year and why did she only study for a year. I would love the idea of discovering aviation explored and expanded. How did she meet her patron and why did he take a chance on this unknown, but determined young woman. What about the racism Bessie endured, there is slight reference to that. Was the person in the newsreel really an actress and not the real Bessie? That’s confusing. I think Bessie’s life and her stint in Chicago in the Roaring 20s can be explored as well. Lots of possibilities. I look forward to Beryl Bain’s next incarnation of The Flight.

Queen Bess Productions in association with Theatre Gargantua, b.current Performing Arts, and Roseneath Theatre present:

Opened: Feb. 10, 2023.

Closes: Feb. 18, 2023

Running time: 1 hour

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