Charles Fuller Died At The Age Of 83: Charles Fuller, who received the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1982 for A Soldier’s Play, a production that won two Tony Awards and finally made it to Broadway 38 years later, passed away on Monday in Toronto. He was 83. Claire Prieto-Fuller, his wife, confirmed his passing.
Only Charles Edward Gordone, who won the Pulitzer for drama in 1970 for No Place to Be Somebody, and Fuller were Black playwrights. His plays frequently dealt with prejudice and occasionally drew on his experiences as an Army veteran.
In A Soldier’s Play, which was Fuller’s adaptation of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd and focused on the murder of a Black Army sergeant and the pursuit of the perpetrator, both of those themes were there.
Denzel Washington was a member of the cast when the play was presented for the first time in 1981 by the Negro Ensemble Company in New York. In his review for The New York Times, Frank Rich commended Fuller’s characterization of both the Black and the white characters and referred to it as “a persistent probe into the deep, sometimes obscure pathology of hate.
Rich argued that Fuller “asks that whites end the injustices that have imprisoned his Black characters into the nightmare, just as he demands that his Black characters find the fortitude to break out of their suicidal, fratricidal cycle.”
The 1984 movie adaptation, retitled A Soldier’s Story and helmed by Norman Jewison, starred Patti LaBelle, Howard E. Rollins Jr., David Alan Grier, Wings Hauser, Adolph Caesar, and Denzel Washington. Three Oscar nominations were given to it, with one going to Fuller’s script.
Fuller made an effort to present Black characters in A Soldier’s Play and his other works who mirrored reality rather than romanticized versions of the race. When the Negro Ensemble Company’s performance of A Soldier’s Play was produced in San Diego in 1984.
Fuller informed The San Diego Union-Tribune that “Black plays were directed at whites in the ’60s and early ’70s.” They were primarily confrontational pieces, and their main focus was on racism and the interactions between Whites and Blacks in this country.
Nowadays, we are considerably more interested in looking inward and at our own circumstances – often historically. Increasingly nuanced personalities with both positive and negative traits are becoming more prevalent. He admitted to the Times in 2020 that A Soldier’s Play was somewhat inspired by his background in a rough region of north Philadelphia.
He claimed, “I grew up in a project in a place where people fired at each other and where gangs fought.” Not white people, but Black people, where life revolved around who was the best and hardest.
We have a history that is unique compared to a lot of people, but it doesn’t mean we don’t kill each other, fall in love, get married, or do anything else that people anywhere on the globe do.
Philadelphia witnessed the March 5, 1939, birth of Charles H. Fuller Jr. His mother, Lillian Teresa Fuller, was a homemaker and foster mother, and his father worked as a printer. When he saw his first play, a Yiddish production at the Walnut Theater, he was a student at Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia.
He admitted to The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1977 that he “didn’t understand a word,” but for some reason, it kindled his desire in becoming a playwright. He attended Villanova University for two years before enlisting in the Army, where he served in South Korea and Japan among other locations.
After four years, he moved back to Philadelphia and started working as a city housing inspector while attending night studies at LaSalle College (now University).
He established the Afro-American Arts Theater in Philadelphia with a few pals in 1968, but they lacked authors, so Fuller tried it out. One outcome was the 1968 production of The Village: A Party, his first theatrical drama depicting a racial paradise, at Princeton, New Jersey’s McCarter Theater.
In a review for The Home News of New Brunswick, New Jersey, Ernest Albrecht stated, “What the evening illustrates is that the theatre is not Fuller’s bag.” Fuller persisted, though. In the 1970s, he moved to New York, where the Negro Ensemble Company produced his play In the Deepest Part of Sleep in 1974 and The Brownsville Raid, which was based on a 1906 Texas incident in which Black troops were accused of shooting, to kick off its 10th anniversary season in 1976.
In his Times article, Walter Kerr applauded Fuller for not making the play just a straightforward account of racial injustice. According to Kerr, “Mr. Fuller is interested in human sloppiness, and his talent with self-serving, only marginally sleazy evasions of duty helps turn the play into the compelling dilemma it is.”
Although Fuller’s goal as a writer was to tackle challenging topics, he did so with some optimism for the future of the United States. In a 1977 interview with the Inquirer, he stated that “America has an opportunity, with all its technology, to establish the first intelligent society in history.” It might offer everyone a sensible method to coexist while still praising the diversity of their cultures.
Charles Fuller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of the searing and acclaimed “A Soldier’s Play” who often explored and exposed how social institutions can perpetuate racism, has died at 83.https://t.co/pVsor2pdXZ
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) October 4, 2022
But by the late 1980s, Fuller had become weary of New York and had relocated to Toronto, where he was at the time of his passing. He is also survived by his wife, a son named David, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. The Roundabout Theater finally staged A Soldier’s Play on Broadway in 2020, with Grier and Blair Underwood among the cast members.
Although it had never been performed on Broadway before—the more common requirement for the category—it was nonetheless eligible to win the best-revival Tony since, according to Tony regulations, it was deemed “a classic” by 2020. Grier was the recipient of a Tony Award for best actor in a featured role.