For an ex-monk, the play is the thing.

Roy Cockrum was a religious brother at the end of a spiritual retreat in England in the mid-2000s when he saw a show that knocked his tunic back. It was the Royal National Theatre's adaptation of Philip Pullman's sci-fi novel "His Dark Materials."

"It was a huge production with 80 characters and 40 actors, an original score throughout and scenery that was changing every minute," Cockrum recalled. He was captivated by the grandness of the production but also saddened by the thought that "back home in America, no nonprofit theater could put on something of such scale."

Cockrum immediately made a vow to himself. "Whenever I have two nickels together, I'm going to help the American theater work at this level," he said.

As fate would have it, Cockrum won $259.8 million in the Powerball lottery about a decade later in June 2014. Since then he has kept his theater promises, using the proceeds to help underwrite ambitious projects for the American stage.

The Tennessee-based Roy Cockrum Foundation is the principal funder of the Guthrie Theater's production of History Plays, a once-in-a-generation epic endeavor in which a 25-member acting company guided by artistic director Joseph Haj presents Shakespeare's "Richard II," "Henry IV" (parts one and two) and "Henry V," in rotating rep.

Neither Cockrum nor the Guthrie would disclose any financial figures about the plays, which have one more 13-hour marathon performance Saturday. The History Plays have drawn patrons from 46 states, Canada and the British Isles.

"Our grants are by invitation only; we know who's doing good work," said Cockrum, who lives in his hometown of Knoxville. He pointed to the Guthrie as "an American flagship" that sparked the regional theater movement.

Cockrum visited the Twin Cities to see all three shows over a two-day period last month. He is one of thousands of Shakespeare enthusiasts who've made a kind of theatrical pilgrimage.

Barb Galm, a Canadian retiree, made the 2,000-mile journey from her hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, with her daughter, Jennifer. The theater buffs had seen Daniel José Molina, who's playing King Henry V at the Guthrie, in the same role at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The Guthrie was the draw for their first trip to Minnesota.

"The casting and performances were excellent," Galm said of the History Plays. "I loved the family storyline throughout, the outstanding costumes and getting to see a new city."

Also fans of architecture and bridges, the Galms spent four days in the Twin Cities, walking the Mill District and taking in the Stone Arch, Hennepin Avenue and I-35W bridges.

"Minneapolis reminds me of Edmonton, but we don't have that deep mix of architecture and history," Galm said. "The theater is gorgeous and world-class, and it was nice to bum around the building and hang out on the cantilever deck."

Jennifer Egan, the celebrated Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, flew in from New York to see the first marathon run of the plays on April 13.

"To be immersed in Shakespeare for many, many hours is an absolute shot of the strongest literary vitamins you can get," said Egan. "To have that language moving through me for a huge part of the day was just a joy and a thrill."

Charles Janasz believes that the Guthrie's marathon is its own jackpot. The Los Angeles-based stage star played the title character of "Richard II" in 1990, the last time the Guthrie attempted something of this scale, and will be at Saturday's performance.

"I'm partly refreshing my memory, but this visit is so much more than that," Janasz said. "These types of ambitious undertakings are very special and very rare events in the American theater. It says something about Minneapolis that all of this is happening there."

No longer a monk, Cockrum continues to live by the precepts that first drew him to be a spiritual seeker. In his view, theater is similar to religious life in that both cause observers to contemplate and seek discernment. He has been reflecting on the quest for power and what happens to those who achieve the crown in the Guthrie productions.

Similarly, a windfall can transform lives in unexpected ways, he said, pointing to the cautionary tale of a Kentucky lottery winner who died of an overdose three years after winning a similar-sized lottery.

"Huge tsunamis of cash will amplify whatever exists in your life already," Cockrum said.

For him, that's meant bestowing a financial blessing on Minneapolis theater.