The director Thomas York, in almost thirty years of theatrical engagement, has staged exclusively performances based on poetic texts of the most varied authors; of the twenty or so total shows made and directed during his career, only a couple contain prose pieces beside to poetic texts — in all the others, poetry reigns supreme.

In fact, for Thomas, theatre and poetry represent two indissoluble elements. The actor's physicality and the poetic sublimity are for him the two main elements of theatrical magic, the two magnificent wings on which the theatrical machine can make its own flight to become a living entity and rise in the skies of the most authentic artistic creation. The theatre of the twentieth century (now in rapid path of extinction) is characterized by the so-called "theatre of prose" ... It would then be time to return to poetic writing, which has made the theatre glorious over two millennia!

The love that Thomas nurtures for Sri Aurobindo certainly pushed him to resort to his unparalleled poetic not infrequently, inserting his lyrical or epic extracts into his performances (mainly from Savitri and Lyrical Poems); moreover, he translated into Italian verses the entire poetic work of this divine Bard of the future, including obviously the five theatrical texts (four dramas and one tragedy), originally written in blank verse. These seven volumes (published between 2006 and 2011) also bear the original texts in front, as a must for great poetry.

It is at this point to ask: why, of the five aforementioned dramaturgy, did the choice fall on Eric? And even before that, another question arises: why only now — after three decades of theatre — dedicate oneself to the staging of a Play by Sri Aurobindo?

All these years of theatrical engagement are considered by York as preparatory to the realization of one (at least one, but we hope that we do not stop here!) of the theatrical works of his favorite Author. Before, he did not feel himself sufficiently ready, evidently. Only after this long apprenticeship does he feel fully capable of carrying out an exemplary direction.

We will address this point further on. For the moment, let us reflect a little on the abysmal difference that separates the prose-theatre from the poetry-theatre. The critical judgment that Antonio Gramsci expressed in his “Quaderni del carcere” on the major 20th-century Italian theatrical author — Luigi Pirandello — offers an interesting analysis, which can easily be extended to the whole theatrical twentieth century, not just Italian (giants like Bertold Brecht, Samuel Beckett and Dario Fo included). Here are the illuminating words of Gramsci: «Died Pirandello (that is, if Pirandello as well as a writer, does not work as head-comedian and as a director) what will remain of his theatre? A generic ‘canovaccio’ that, in a certain sense, can approach the scenarios of the pregoldoni theatre: of theatrical pretexts, not of eternal poetry. It will be said that this happens for all the theatrical plays and in a certain sense this is true. But only in a sense. It is true that a tragedy of Shakespeare can have different theatrical interpretations depending on the theatre manager and the directors, that is true that every tragedy of Shakespeare can become pretext for differently original theatrical performances: but it remains that the tragedy printed in book, and read individually, has its own independent artistic life, which can abstract from theatrical acting: it is poetry and art even outside the theatre and entertainment. This does not happen for Pirandello: his theatre lives aesthetically in most part only if represented theatrically, and if represented theatrically having Pirandello as head-comedian and as a director. (All this is understood with a lot of salt). "(Quaderni dal carcere, IV.134).

Cum grano salis, therefore, we observe that the theatrical texts of Pirandello — in the second half of the twentieth century — were represented by several directors (remember, in particular, some memorable interpretations signed by Giorgio Strehler); but who, today, still read these works? Who recognizes a value disjointed by (increasingly rare) theatrical performances? These are rhetorical questions, obviously; which can easily be extended to any other twentieth century theatrical writer (the exceptions are very rare — we mention, for example, Murder in the Cathedral of Eliot, not by chance a dramaturgy in verse, written however by a lyrical poet lent to the theatre for a single experiment, however successful). While, after centuries, the theatrical texts of Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Calderón, and Molière are still read and appreciated as a poetic fact in themselves, as well as theatrical masterpieces.

Cum grano salis, again, we note that the theatrical text, even when written in poetry, obviously born to be staged. The poetic sublimity can undoubtedly be appreciated independently, separated from its stage realization, yet the strength and beauty of its artistic inspiration can only be grasped in its entirety in the theatre (on the other hand, if it were not so, why their authors would have felt the need or the inspiration to poetize for the theatre? — They could more appropriately orient themselves towards the epic and lyrical oeuvres). How many times has happened, after having witnessed a particularly brilliant representation of King Lear, even having read and reread it several times over the years, that when we left the theatre we said to ourselves: “But what have I read so far? There are a number of details (not at all negligible and secondary) that I have only grasped now in their fullness!”. But, beyond intellectual comprehension, the element of greatest importance is expressed in the fact that theatrical force and magic make the so-called “oral dead” alive and completely artistic.

After this digression — fundamental for us — it remains to be understood why Thomas York chose Eric instead of another one of the four dramaturges realized by Sri Aurobindo.

As can easily be presumed, the motivations are multiple. Let us try to summarize at least the main ones.

First of all, there are pragmatic factors, so to speak: of all the plays of Sri Aurobindo, this is certainly the least complex to represent, due to the relatively limited number of envisaged characters (who, however, have almost all relevant characteristics, making the dividing line that usually separates the main characters from the secondary characters almost evanescent. Not counting the extras (sometimes quite large), Perseus the Deliverer includes 28 characters, The Viziers of Bassora includes 25, and then drop a little in Rodogune with its 17 characters, and Vasavadutta with 16. Eric, on the other hand, only 8 (and some appear). Identifying the right actors, motivating them, working with them during the rehearsals so as to induce them to create something alive and artistically accomplished, requires a dedication that the viewer (unless he is of the profession) even remotely is able to imagine, in addition to the time necessary to shape the artistic creation organically (we will resume this aspect linked to the temporal factor, here it is sufficient to mention the fact that the theatre companies that are subsidized by the system and enslaved set up a new show in three or at most four months of rehearsals, while the greatest reformer of the art of acting — Stanislavski — believed it impossible to create a real scenic piece of art in such a short time).

Then there is a motivation that pertains to the particular type of poetic writing that Sri Aurobindo uses in this drama — an artistic device that has so fascinated Thomas since his first confrontation with the text. The speech would be too technical and, therefore, we limit ourselves to mentioning two fundamental elements. The first concerns the almost total absence of enjambment (that is, as is known, the reduction or sometimes even the suppression of the silence pause generally present between two verses — theatrical poetic writing, by necessity, makes extensive use of such expedient, just to make the speech smooth and natural, approaching the spoken while maintaining the poetic inspiration); Sri Aurobindo seems to have wanted to create a theatrical work (the only one, among his dramaturgy — however, we find that other theatrical authors have never attempted such an undertaking, except perhaps the great Greek tragedians) where each verse can be made to vibrate in the way that would be converged to high poetry, or never (or almost never) renouncing the silence break above (fundamental in allow the poetic magic contained in every single verse to unveil its full and most intense vibration); this was possible due to the fact that the characters of the drama all have a high, almost epic nature, which allows them to express themselves with magniloquence, while still maintaining all the characteristics of a theatrical language: alive, fluid, spontaneous, fully credible and understandable. Which is a real miracle!

The second element we wish to emphasize is directly connected to the first: in this theatrical text there is not even a sentence in prose; it is necessary to remember that, generally, a theatrical text in verse often contains characters that express themselves in prose, and this effect is highly effective in creating the right contrast between crude, vulgar, prosaic, and noble characters, heroic, expressing themselves exclusively through the poetic sonority; when, in the same scene, there are prosaic characters and others expressing themselves in poetry, the resulting effect is very suggestive (provided, of course, the author's hand is that of an authentic dramaturgical genius). We find this admirable expedient in Shakespeare, and we find it also in Sri Aurobindo, except — precisely — Eric (and Vasavadutta). In Perseus the Deliverer, to give an example, immediately after the Prologue, in which the goddess Pallas Athene and the god Poseidon confront each other on a rocky edge of the Syrian coasts using the most refined poetic language, in the scene immediately following they burst exactly into the same place two human characters (a servant and a handmaid) who express themselves in a prosaic and populate language — the contrast is admirable to reveal to the spectator two distinctly divergent atmospheres: one celestial, ethereal, the other terrestrial, sulphurous. This, however, as we said, in Eric never happens: everything takes place in an atmosphere of pure brightness and beauty. In the impeccable poetic diction of Eric, Sri Aurobindo did not have to show the slightest shadow of baseness in order to highlight the radiant splendor of the characters taking part in the stage action ... Another miracle of Sri Aurobindo’s poetry!

As we said, the aforementioned elements (among others) have greatly intrigued Thomas York — above all as a poet, in reading of the text and with his own imagination in the stage; then, as a translator, trying to return these same characteristics in the Italian verses he made; finally, as a director, reaching the challenge of creating a representation based on a theatrical masterpiece of such perfection.

Perhaps we should also examine (though a little reluctantly) on the content motivations: unfortunately, in the theatre we are still stubborn (after the twentieth century drift) to seek at all costs a “message” (as if the artistic beauty should be forced to reduce the his marvellous fascination within the restricted moulds of a meaning!); but do not become misunderstood: with this we do not want to say that the theatre must be frivolous, indeed, far from it! Our only disappointment lies in the fact that the so-called “message”, in our rationaloid age, has prevailed over all the other elements, which are actually, as mentioned, far more important to the presence of an authentic work of art; when we listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, it is the sublime musical vibration that fascinates and exalts and transports in a divine sphere — the “message” of universal harmony that the symphony carries is certainly very important (indeed, it is inseparable from the musical fascination), but it does not constitute the true artistic miracle of this masterpiece; there are authors of literary prose who have treated the subject of peace and harmonious coexistence in a much more exhaustive and detailed way… It is not a philosophical treatise, nor the sermons that we demand from art (not by chance, Beethoven used a poem by Schiller, not a treatise by Rousseau): if anything, we expect to be transported as concretely as possible in a world of pure beauty, of vivid light and harmony.

Returning to our Eric, we can certainly recognize in his dictation dramaturgical truth whose importance is particularly relevant (on which we will explore in other specially made articles), compared to the other four aforementioned dramaturgy which, while transmitting not less elevated values, to the moment we think they do not yet have a public sufficiently ready to receive them in the way that they deserve (we are reminded, first of all, the aforementioned Perseus the Deliverer — which, moreover, would require almost prohibitive capital to be staged properly; it is useless to see how much today, the holders of world wealth are directed only to their microscopic navel, when not even lower: just look around to see it from the really demeaning results, with a more and more evident proliferation of injustice, in which the gap between rich and poor is widening out of all proportion, and in which the cynicism, ruthlessness, cruelty and oppression dominate at all levels).

There is finally, the need to set up a sufficiently exemplary performance, also to dissuade possible directors from falling into the old (and now unrealistic) twentieth-century theatrical stereotypes when they also decided to consider any of Sri Aurobindo’s theatrical works that, although written in the twentieth century, project their splendour in the long-awaited “poetry of the future” that their author has admirably wanted to announce and start to be an authentic and brilliant Pioneer in the field.