Charles Fuller, the Pulitzer-winning playwright of “A Soldier’s Play,” has died at age 83


Written by the author By Scottie Andrews, CNN

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

Fuller’s young son, David Fuller, confirmed his death to The Hollywood Reporter.

A native of Philadelphia and an Army veteran, Fuller wrote plays that aimed to represent black Americans authentically. as multidimensional and complex characters, rather than being limited to stereotypical roles or eliminated 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 the tensions between black soldiers on a segregated Army base, Fuller was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for drama and, nearly 40 years later, a Tony Award.

“I think people will do (‘A Solider’s Play’) forever,” American Theater magazine said 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 them as we are.”

He wrote plays for black audiences

Fuller grew up in the James Weldon Johnson Homes, a housing project in North Philadelphia and a location that would influence many of his careers growing up. Along with his friend and neighbor, the late poet and playwright Larry Neal, he immersed himself in the books of authors such as Ralph Ellison as a child and set his sights on writing.
In an interview with Pulitzer-winning playwright Lynn Nottage, Fuller said that his first forays into theater were skits created for residents of a low-income community, where he was working as a housing inspector. Fuller wrote the sketches reminding people to lock their doors and know how to secure their trash cans, she told Nottage.

At one of these informative performances, an audience member recommended that Fuller enter a play competition at the McCarter Theater Center in Princeton, New Jersey — within a week, he wrote his first play, “The Perfect Party,” which won the award. competition and was produced in the theater. The play, about an interracial couple involved in the civil rights movement, transferred off-Broadway in 1969.

Fuller laughed off his “terrible criticisms” in his conversation with Nottage. But it was production However which gained him greater acceptance in New York theater circles.

The 1974 play “The Deepest Part of Sleep,” about an incestuous family, was produced by the New York-based Negro Ensemble Company (NEC). The theater company was founded by black artists in 1967, producing works 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. “Actually, we were.”

‘A Soldier’s Play’ won the Pulitzer

The group also produced several of Fuller’s later works, “The Brownsville Raid” in 1976 and the Obie-winning “Zooman and the Sign” in 1980, both of which explore American history and race. But it wasn’t until 1981 that NEC produced what it calls “its most successful production” and the following year Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play: “A Soldier’s Play.”
Fuller’s experience in the military — he served in the US Army from 1959 to 1962 — inspired him to write a drama set within the black military. “A Soldier’s Play” takes place on a segregated army base in the 1940s, when a Black sergeant is murdered. His subject is thorny and controversial; on the one hand, his black characters are often contradictory, and internalized racism is one of his main themes. — and the initial run generated applause and controversy.
“What Mr. Fuller has written is a relentless study of the complex and sometimes cryptic pathology of hate,” wrote former New York Times theater critic Frank Rich in his 1981 review.

The 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 Broadway revival starred Taye Diggs and Anthony Mackie.)

In 1982, the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and earned Fuller a $1,000 prize. The New York Times announced in 2020 that he was only the second Black playwright to receive the drama award.

When he won, he dedicated his award to NEC contributors.

“A play means nothing on a page,” he told the Times in 1982. “‘A play is nothing until the people do it. The cast of the Negro Ensemble Company and Douglas Turner Ward, who was so important as a director, did the job. They got the people to love it as much as the play.’

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

Fuller’s play is coming to Broadway

It would take nearly 40 years from the Broadway premiere of “A Soldier’s Story” to appear on Broadway. There, the audience and critics welcomed him; “A Soldier’s Play” won the 2020 Tony Award for best revival of a play and earned nominations for stars Blair Underwood and David Alan Grier, who also appeared in a previous stage version and the 1984 film. award for best supporting actor.

The play’s Broadway run was cut short by Covid-19 – it opened in January 2020, closing in March after the pandemic closed theaters for more than a year. But Fuller said he didn’t expect it to make it to Broadway in the first place.

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

“Broadway doesn’t drive me,” he told American Theatre. “What drives my work is always: Is it real? Is it important to our country? And if it is, I will be successful. If not, I wasted everyone’s time in the theater.”

Fuller wrote other works, including short stories and screenplays. His latest, the 2013 play “One Night …” was again set among the armed forces, and spoke about sexual assaults in the US military.

But he’ll always be best known for “A Soldier’s Play,” though he says he’s undecided about his legacy in 2020.

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