Charles Fuller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Soldier’s Play, has died at the age of 83.
Fuller, whose work has often examined and uncovered how social institutions can perpetuate racism, died Monday of natural causes in Toronto, his wife Claire Prieto-Fuller said.
His plays were full of complex characters and a defiance of convention. He once told Newsday, “The best way to dispel stereotypes and massive lies is to say something as close to the truth as possible.”
In a review of his work, The New York Times said, “Cliches about form, plot, and character crumble like skeets at a shooting range.”
Fuller’s most famous work, A Soldier’s Play, used a military setting in its story about the search for the killer of a black sergeant on a Louisiana army base during World War II.
It dissected deep-rooted racism and internal divisions in the black military community and wrapped it in murder mystery.
The play won the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and two years later was included in the Oscar-nominated film A Soldier’s Story, for which Fuller wrote the screenplay and received an Oscar nomination.
“I just want to be considered a playwright who’s lucky enough to have written a hit and who wants to keep writing plays that break the wall,” he told the New York Times in 1982.
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His work has attracted the best black acting talent. The film version starred a young Denzel Washington, who appeared in his first incarnation in New York opposite Samuel L. Jackson.
A 2005 Off-Broadway revival starred Taye Diggs, Anthony Mackie and Steven Pasquale.
It made its Broadway debut in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, starring David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood, and received seven Tony nominations, including Best Play revival. Grier won the Tony for Lead Actor and the play won Best Revival.
“It has been my greatest honor to perform his words both on stage and screen, his genius will be missed,” Grier tweeted in sorrow.
Playwright Lynn Nottage wrote: “His work has been and continues to be an important source of inspiration for me and in many ways became my invitation to write plays.”
Born in Philadelphia, Fuller attended Villanova University and then enlisted in the Army in 1959, where he served in Japan and South Korea. He later studied at La Salle University.
He was working as a housing inspector in Philadelphia when the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, was staging his drama The Perfect Party, which moved off Broadway in 1969. The subject was intermarriage, but Fuller joked, “It was one of the worst racial games in the world”.
Fuller wrote plays for the Negro Ensemble Company and his works have been performed at the New Federal Theater and the Henry Street Settlement.
His breakthrough came with The Brownsville Raid, which told the true story of black soldiers who were dishonorably discharged in 1906 after being wrongly accused of murder. It was only decades later that the US Army was relieved.
Five years after The Brownsville Raid, Fuller used similar themes and settings in A Soldier’s Play, for which he was influenced by Herman Melville’s Billy Budd. Both works were set in the military during the war, but Fuller used the structure to discuss race in modern America.
Fuller returned to the military in 2013 with the military-themed play One Night…, about a former army truck driver whose life has been thrown off balance since she went public with charges of raping three comrades in Iraq.
In one scene, she pleads with the Veterans Affairs Department for disability benefits: “Why am I a hero when I die and a nuisance when I live?”
In addition to his wife, Fuller is survived by a son, David, a daughter-in-law, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
https://www.independent.ie/style/celebrity/celebrity-news/a-soldiers-play-writer-charles-fuller-dies-aged-83-42041816.html A Soldier’s Play writer Charles Fuller dies aged 83