Roberto Bolano's '2666' Theater Production Now Exists, Thanks to a Lottery-Winning Monk

What would you do with the money if you hit the jackpot in the lottery? Travel the world? Buy a nice home and a new car? Roy Cockrum always had an idea in the back of his mind of what he'd do: Donate what he could to support nonproft theater. And he made good on his word by making a rumored "high six-figure to low seven-figure" donation to Chicago’s Goodman Theater to stage a theater adaptation of Roberto Bolaño's 2666. Which, if you've even heard of the book, is an unlikely choice as it's almost 900 pages long. Yes, that's even longer than Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which tapped out at 870 pages.

Chilean-born Bolaño wrote his final novel 2666 as he was on the transplant list for a liver. He passed away before it was published in Spain in 2004. (The original Spanish text, by the way, is more than 1,100 pages long.) It's hard to pin down exactly what 2666 is about, which is part of the point. It's divided into five sections, centered around Santa Teresa, which is a stand-in for the Mexican city of Juarez on the Texas border, and its notoriously high murder rate against women.

When 2666 made its way to America in 2008, it was on the New York Times Book Review's list of 10 Best Books of 2008, it was TIME's Best Fiction Book of 2008, and it won the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. It's known not only as one of the greatest, most epic Spanish-language novels ever, but as a cornerstone of fiction in general.

But a play?

Robert Falls, the stage director who runs the Goodman Theater, said the idea of making 2666 into a theater production has been tossing around in his brain for a long time. He called it his "passion project," but he was unsure it would ever be able to be staged.

Enter: Our lottery winner. Roy Cockrum, a former stage manager and actor who became an Episcopal monk, won a $153 million Powerball jackpot (excuse me while I fall down realizing that that is an actual amount of money that exists) and vowed to donate what he could to the performing arts. He got the idea after seeing a production of Phillip Pullmanès His Dark Materials at the Olivier Theater:

There was a huge cast, a score from start to finish, special effects every five minutes and a very enthusiastic young audience on the edge of their seats ... I knew that the lack of government support made such productions all but impossible in the United States. I made a mental note that if I ever got some dough, I would try to do what I could to support nonprofit theaters being able to do that level of production.

After hitting the jackpot, Cockrum toured nonprofit theaters until he found his way to Falls at the Goodman.

"I've never in my life had a foundation or corporation or individual come to us and say their desire was to give money toward work on that scale," Falls told The New York Times. But Cockrum says he isn't done and hopes to contribute even more with his vast winnings.

Goodman Theater's production of 2666 is projected to premiere in 2015 or 2016.

Image: Farisori/Wikimedia Commons

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