'The Drunkard' is back after a pandemic-induced year off. Here is how to see Topeka's longest-running play.
Phil Grecian has been stopped many times in the grocery store over the past year by curious Topekans asking when "The Drunkard" will be returning.
The long-running play came to a halt in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But now, "The Drunkard" is making its return.
"The Drunkard" will be performed throughout the month starting 8 p.m. July 16 with performances every Friday and Saturday until July 31 at the VFW Phillip Billard Post 1650, 3110 S.W. Huntoon St.
The July 16th show will be the 909th performance of "The Drunkard" in Topeka.
Tickets are $12-$15 and can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dale-eastons-the-drunkard-tickets-160228719413.
"The Drunkard" is an adaptation of a 19th-century temperance play that has been turned into a satire that mocks temperance and melodrama acting.
The original play told the story of a man whose life becomes consumed by alcohol.
'The Drunkard' debuted in Topeka 60 years ago
"The Drunkard" first premiered in Topeka in 1960 when Dale Easton, a former Topeka Civic Theatre artistic director, adapted it from two temperance plays, "10 Nights in a Bar Room" and "The Drunkard."
Easton edited and adapted the storyline of "10 Nights in a Bar Room" but used the title "The Drunkard."
The play debuted at the Topeka Mid-America Fairgrounds and it was only meant to run for a couple of weekends.
"He kept selling tickets, and people just kept coming, so in Topeka, it became every Saturday night through 1966," Grecian said.
The play moved in 1967 to the basement of McFarland's Restaurant and in the following years found a home at Perry Lake's Apple Valley Farms and Topeka's Showcase Dinner Theatre until 1986.
When Easton retired in 1988, he passed the play on to Karen Hastings.
Hastings and Grecian, both former cast members of "The Drunkard," agreed to take over the show but had to do so with imagination.
"The thing about (Easton's) script is the script never contained any business, no blocking, no anything," Grecian said. "People from other states liked to come in and watch it and steal it, so he thought he would make it a little harder for them by not having any business in them, just the lines."
Easton agreed to pass along the stage business but died before he could.
"We were dedicated to the notion that we could bring the show back," Grecian said.
Grecian and Hastings had both played three roles in "The Drunkard" so the duo sat down and added in the stage business based on their memories.
"We revived the business and then as we started rehearsing with the new cast, we would have these epiphanies," Grecian said. "All together, we finally had 100 percent of the business back."
The play re-premiered in Topeka in 2003 at the Topeka Performing Arts Center and most recently had a run from 2013 to 2019 at The Break Room in downtown Topeka.
Grecian said the play could possibly call the VFW post its permanent home.
"They are revamping parts of their downstairs club and building an extra stage for us," Grecian said.
A Topeka tradition on stage
"The Drunkard" can be considered a Topeka tradition given its long-running history. Although the show has moved around several times, audience members continue to return.
Grecian attributes the play's popularity to its broad humor.
"The audience winds up participating in it. You get to boo the villain and cheer the hero," Grecian said. "Our audiences are always laughing like crazy. They just enjoy it so much."
Given the immense number of performances and a 60-year timeline, the play has secured its place in Topeka's history.
Because of the support the community gives the play, not having performances in 2020 was difficult, Grecian said.
"We'd gotten going so well and there was a lot of streak talk," Grecian said. "When we had our 900th performance, that was a big deal, so we thought we are doing great here. Then 2020 and we lost all of that momentum."
Phil Grecian will reprise his role as 'The Drunkard's' Joe Morgan
When "The Drunkard" opens July 16, Grecian will walk on stage as Joe Morgan, also known as the drunkard. It will also be his 350th performance of the play.
The 11-member cast includes Dane Shobe, Shawn Trimble, John Hanna, Raymond Remp Jr., Morgan Boyer, Kelly Rippel, Lisa Greenwood, Robin Bonsall, Arlyn Brunken and Cheryl Franklin.
For cast members new and returning, the performances remain special.
"It's part of our own history. I grew up in it," Grecia said. "There aren't very many of us old-timers left who are in the show, but there are quite a few who have been with us since 2001, and then every year, there are two or three new people.
"It's important to us because of our own personal histories, but it's also important because we've become part of the history of the city."