HomeEntertainmentCharles Fuller, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright for 'A Soldier's Play,' dies at 83

Charles Fuller, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright for ‘A Soldier’s Play,’ dies at 83

Written by By Scottie AndrewCNN

Charles Fuller, the acclaimed playwright best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play “A Soldier’s Play,” has died. He was 83 years old.

Fuller’s youngest son, David Fuller, confirmed his death to the Hollywood Reporter.

A Philadelphia native and Army veteran, Fuller wrote plays that aimed to authentically portray African Americans. as multidimensional and complex characters instead of limiting them to stereotypical roles or erasing them altogether.

His works often highlighted uncomfortable truths about racism in the US and were written with black audiences in mind. For “A Soldier’s Play,” which highlights tensions among black servicemen on a segregated military base, Fuller received a Pulitzer Prize for drama and, nearly 40 years later, a Tony Award.

“I think people will do (“A Solider’s Play”) forever,” he said. saying American Theater Magazine in 2020. “There are very few plays with black men, and if there are, black men are always in a weak position… I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to make us who we are.” .”

He wrote plays for black audiences.

Fuller grew up at James Weldon Johnson Homes, a housing project in North Philadelphia and a place that influenced many of the works he would create growing up. Along with his friend and neighbor, the late poet and playwright Larry Neal, he immersed himself in books by authors like Ralph Ellison as a child and took an interest in writing.
in a interview with fellow Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage, Fuller said his first steps toward playwriting were skits created for residents of a low-income community where he was then working as a home inspector. Fuller wrote sketches reminding people to lock their doors and instructing them on how to secure their trash cans, he told Nottage.

An audience member at one of these informational performances recommended that Fuller enter a drama competition at the McCarter Theater Center in Princeton, New Jersey; within a week, she had written her first play, “The Perfect Party”, which won the competition and was produced in the theater. The play, about interracial couples involved in the civil rights movement, was transferred off Broadway in 1969.

Fuller laughed at his “terrible criticism” in his conversation with Nottage. But the production was nevertheless which “propelled” him to greater recognition in New York theater circles.

His 1974 play “The Deepest Part of Sleep,” about an incestuous family, was produced by the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC), a company based in New York. theater company founded in 1967 by black artists, producing plays for black audiences. And Fuller would continue to work with the company for years.

“We thought we were making history,” he said of his NEC colleagues. “Frankly, we were.”

‘Soldier’s play’ wins Pulitzer

The group also produced some of Fuller’s later works, “The Brownsville Raid” in 1976 and the Obie-winning “Zooman and the Sign” in 1980, with American history and career central to both. But it wasn’t until 1981 that NEC produced what calls “his most successful production” and the play for which Fuller won a Pulitzer Prize the following year: “A Soldier’s Play.”
Fuller’s own experience in the military — he served in the US Army from 1959 to 1962, it inspired him to write a drama set in the black military ranks. “A Soldier’s Play” takes place on a segregated military base in the 1940s, when a black sergeant is murdered. His subject matter is thorny and contentious: for one thing, his black characters are often at odds, and internalized racism is one of his key themes. — and its initial run sparked both praise and controversy.
“What Mr. Fuller has written is a relentless investigation into the complex, sometimes cryptic, pathology of hate,” said former New York Times drama critic Frank Rich. wrote in his 1981 review.

His first off-Broadway production, directed by his long-term creative partner and NEC co-founder Douglas Turner Ward, starred Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson in supporting roles. (A 2006 off-Broadway revival featured Taye Diggs and Anthony Mackie in its cast.)

In 1982, the work won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and earned Fuller a $1,000 prize. He was only the second black playwright to receive the theater award, the New York Times. reported in 2020.

At the time of his victory, he dedicated his award to his collaborators at NEC.

“A play means nothing on a page,” he said. saying The Times in 1982. “‘A play is nothing until people make it. The artists of the Negro Ensemble Company and Douglas Turner Ward, who was as instrumental as the director, did the work. They made people love the play so much. how to do.”

“A Soldier’s Play” was adapted for the screen in 1984, its title changed to “A Soldier’s Story” and it was nominated for three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay for Fuller, and Best Supporting Actor for NEC collaborator Adolph Caesar. .

Fuller’s play comes to Broadway

It would take nearly 40 years from its off-Broadway debut for “A Soldier’s Story” to appear on Broadway. There, both the public and the critics welcomed him; “A Soldier’s Game” won the 2020 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play and garnered nominations for its stars Blair Underwood and David Alan Grier, with the latter, who also appeared in both an earlier stage version and the 1984 film, winning the award for Best Supporting Actor.

The play’s Broadway showing was shortened by covid-19: It opened in January 2020 and closed in March as the pandemic shut down theaters for more than a year. But Fuller had said that he didn’t expect it to make it to Broadway in the first place.

Fuller (center, wearing a brown coat and cap) joined the cast of the Broadway revival of “A Soldier’s Play” onstage to celebrate its premiere. Credit: Walter McBride/Getty Images

“Broadway doesn’t drive me,” he told American Theatre. “The thing that always drives my work is: Is it real? Is it important to our people? And if it is, I’m successful. If it’s not, I wasted everyone’s time in theater.”

Fuller went on to write a few more works, including short stories and screenplays. Her most recent work, the 2013 stage play “One Night…”, was once again set among the military and addressed sexual assault in the US military.

But he will always be best known for “A Soldier’s Play,” though in 2020 he said he doesn’t stop at his legacy.

When asked about one of the most famous lines in the play, “You’ll just have to get used to black people being in charge,” Fuller replied plainly, “Well, it’s as plain as it gets.”

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