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Driving in Circles: Theatrically Unpacking Trauma 

Exploring the Jewish Roots of writer, composer, and performer Jay Eddy

By Jewish Arts Collaborative

Published Mar 22, 2024


DRIVING IN CIRCLES is a new hybrid solo-ish show by Jay Eddy that traverses the highway between confessional monologue, stand-up comedy, and rock concert. Set to a sometimes whispering, sometimes screaming folktronica score, DRIVING traces the aftermath of intimate violence—mapping our hero’s darkly funny, deeply felt, defiantly hopeful journey through the bodymind-altering landscapes of trauma towards something like happiness. 

Driving in Circles premiered at the Boston Playwrights theater in March 2024. In anticipation of the premier of Driving in Circles, we sat down with Jay to discuss how Jewish identity informs their work. Here’s what Jay had to say: 

JArts: Driving in Circles isn’t a hit-you-over-the-head Jewish story, but it has deep Jewish roots and soul. Can you share a bit of how you view this? 

 Eddy: DRIVING IN CIRCLES is deeply rooted in the Jewish practice of re-authoring trauma as a means of personal and communal healing. I’m interested in the politics of memoir as a site of resistance and in the performance of memory—I’m more interested in how we remember than in what we remember. 

“Epic and rhapsodic in the strictest sense, genuine memory must…yield an image of the person who remembers” (Walter Benjamin, “Excavation and Memory”). 

 I’m also interested in the who—who is doing the remembering, who is being remembered. DRIVING is very much a story about a Jewish family—and, in some ways, about what it means for a community-oriented people to assimilate into an individualist culture—and, DRIVING also tells a Jewish love story. Every named character in this play is Jewish: Jill/Bill, Leesie, Sam, Julie, Everett…even “Captain of Sport Team.”  

 The show owes a great deal to so many Jewish art-works and art-makers: Lisa Kron’s 2.5 MINUTE RIDE and Paula Vogel’s HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE were core resources (and that influence is reflected, I think, in the show’s title). Structurally, DRIVING plays with circularity and chiasmus—storytelling modes we can trace at least as far back as the Torah. Musically, Paul Simon was a major influence (and a verse from “Graceland” is one of the play’s epigraphs). The music in DRIVING can be hard to pin down—when pressed, I’ve been calling it “folktronica,” meaning that I’m playing with a range of folk traditions filtered through electronica, art pop, rock and roll, funk, disco, etc. And certainly one of the folk traditions, in my mind, is Klezmer: “2001” borrows from an often used Klezmer variation between 3/4 and 6/8 meters, “Sleep” and “The World Is Ending Anyway” are grounded by long-held pedal points, “Shrill” and “Furious” play with klezmer-inflected vocal cries and sighs and glottal stops. And, looking again at the Jewish theater tradition—“You Don’t Know the Night” is in pretty direct conversation with Kurt Weill.  

 And to return to the idea of re-authoring trauma as both healing mode and communal practice—DRIVING is a story of survival made by survivors. It is a story about living with trauma—and about releasing it, choosing mourning, and finding the road forward together.  

  “To reach for mourning—to allow our pain to be neither repressed nor sanctified, but released—can be to trade a solipsistic victimhood for glimpses of this world-building force” (Arielle Angel, “Beyond Grievance”). 

  The people making this play—I can certainly speak for myself and for my director and long-time collaborator, Sam Plattus—are driven by the absurdist project of choosing hope when hope feels like madness. We do not make this work to shock the consciences of anyone impossibly unaffected by trauma and violence but to offer up comfort and solidarity and glimmers of recognition to other survivors. DRIVING is not a re-creation of violence: it’s about what happens around and after intimate violence, about finding hope and community, about rejecting radical individualism and learning how to sit with the hard stuff together. For me, I think that’s where the Jewish soul of this play lives. 

 JArts: What does it mean to you to be a Jewish artist? 

Eddy: For me, Jewish art evokes: 

  • Diaspora: as liminal psychic space, as shvel, as wandering in the desert, as ghosts of the past persisting alongside a future-facing project of hope; 
  • Queer temporalities: Walter Benjamin’s jetztzeit, cycles of telling and retelling, refusing endings; 
  • Muscular engagement with the past: resisting nostalgia, asking not what we remember but how, playing in the spaces of simultaneous remembering and forgetting; 
  • Humor and a love of language: layers of meaning, a sense of play, the Yiddish pun that cannot be translated into English (the “shteyn” in “Tumbalalaika”), loss that leads to invention, moments of joy and laughter found in the collective exploration of difficult truths; 
  • Questioning: inquiry-driven creation, emphasizing process over product, an ethos of anti-urgency, a knowing that all questions will lead to more questions, a knowing that nothing is too sacred to be questioned.  

I am a Mad Crip Queer Enby Jew, and my work is rooted in a trauma-informed and deeply neuroqueer Weird Futurity (meaning: predestined sense of what-is-to-come as a repeating patten of what has been). My plays are absurdist predictions of the future; raw excavations of the past; fluid containers wherein time will collapse, skid sideways, slip back, rocket forward, osmose, and explode. I believe in leaving the theater door open for magic as for Elijah at the seder. 

But if, for a moment, I can put it very simply: I believe that a Jewish artist is any Jewish person making art.  

JArts: You were a New Jewish Culture Fellow. How did this experience inform your current work? 

I loved being a part in the New Jewish Culture Fellowship. The diversity of creativity in my multi-disciplinary cohort inspired me to expand the scope of my artistic practice—I feel like I’m at an exciting juncture in my creative life, where I’m breaking open my practice, trying to make something new, opening myself up to hybrid and transdisciplinary forms integrating music, theater and performance art, film and video art, installation, testimony and memoir, poetry and essay, translation, and ritual—and I would not be at this juncture without the encouragement and awesomeness (in the most literal sense) of my peers. The generosity of spirit, openness to each other’s work in its messiest stages, joy for each other’s discoveries and successes, solidarity through struggle and disappointment, and, above all else, kindness that I experienced in that space is a treasure trove of gifts I hope to bring with me into every peer space I enter. 

And the diversity of relationships to Judaism among my peers has affirmed my experience, allowed me to exorcise my fears of not being “Jewish enough,” and empowered me to explore Jewish themes more directly in my work. Through NJCF, I was also able to create two installations for the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s MATERIAL/INHERITANCE show that really stretched my creative muscles—I created a three-channel, narrative, a-chronological audio installation (“The Other Death of Arthur”) on the absurdity and isolation of sitting shiva in a global pandemic, and I co-created, with poet Mariya Zilberman, a collaborative tactile multimedia installation (“Threshold(Shvel)”) exploring the fluidity and fragmentation of home.   

JArts: What is your favorite Jewish memory?

Eddy: My grandparents, my mother’s parents, were a big part of my childhood, they played a big role in raising me, and I was lucky—they were a big part of my early adulthood, too. We lost my grandfather in late summer 2020, and my grandmother, just under three years later, in early summer 2023. My grandmother, in the ancient mold of the matriarchs who were the keepers of our oral histories, was a storyteller. In the last decade-or-so of her life, she struggled with her memory, mostly her short-term memory—she might repeat the same question a few times or struggle to follow a movie she hadn’t seen before. But when you asked her about her childhood growing up in Roxbury in a two-family home just upstairs from her grandparents or when you asked her about meeting my grandfather and tasting his mother’s strawberry torte (“I told my mother: the date was fine, but I had the best dessert I’ve ever eaten in my life!”), she seemed to remember everything. She told me the story of her grandmother, Helen, immigrating from the Pale of Settlement (“probably Poland, but the papers say Russia”) when she was thirteen-years-old, and the story of my grandfather’s mother, Gerry, baker of the famous strawberry torte, immigrating from the Pale of Settlement (“probably Ukraine, but the papers say Russia”) when she was even younger (“we never knew her real age, it was a mystery, we think she lied about it so she could be younger than her husband”). She told me about her mother, the only daughter in a houseful of sons, how she was smarter than all the boys, but her father stopped her from going to college, and she never got over it. She told me about her first date with my grandfather—he took her to see a hockey game, but the ice melted, so they had to go out on a second date just to see the game (a few months later they were married, and their marriage lasted seventy years). 

My sister and I were able to record some of her stories—some with video, some only audio—and we have some old camcorder footage our father took in the late eighties and early nineties. I treasure these recordings, these mundane technological miracles creating a kind of mise en abyme, an endless series of reflections, memories of memories of memories, connecting my stories to my grandmother’s stories to our ancestors stories.  

JArts: Are there any Jewish stories you dream of bringing to the stage? 

Eddy: I’m very lucky this year to be an Artistic Research Fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where I’ve been researching and preparing to adapt Elizabeth Cary’s THE TRAGEDY OF MARIAM, FAIR QUEEN OF JEWRY, an early modern closet drama retelling of the Herod and Mariam story and the first extant original play written by a woman in the English language. In my research, I’ve taken a particular interest in the depiction of Jews and Judaism in the text, and I have considered these depictions alongside other examples from early modern British drama (THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, THE JEW OF MALTA), in relation to Cary’s source text (Thomas Lodge’s translations of Josephus), and in conversation with post-Reformation Protestant and Catholic martyr narratives by Cary’s contemporaries. My adaptation will be a proto-punk rock opera called MARIAM, FAIR QUEEN OF JERSEY: Relocating the telling of Mariam’s story from 17th century Britain to 1960s suburban New Jersey, MARIAM will follow Betty, a Jewish woman stuck in an unhappy marriage, who, after years of struggling to conceive a child with her husband, conceives a rock band with her sister and her enigmatic new neighbor instead. With sounds inspired by The Pleasure Seekers, Denise and Company, The Shags, and other women pioneers of punk, MARIAM, FAIR QUEEN OF JERSEY will collide closet play and garage band in an electric, screeching prayer for women’s liberation, bodily autonomy, and queer love. 

I have a few other projects in various stages of development—from ideas jotted down in my notebook to full first drafts.  

I’m working on a rock opera cum radio play cum immersive audio installation called SICK! about a Jewish musician stuck in bed with a year-long migraine who’s being haunted by the ghost of Santa Teresa de Ávila. It’s an absurdist, magical, mystical dive into the pains and pleasures of isolation, the false separation of body and spirit, and the ecstatic states of sickness, asking: how can we accept a life mediated by flesh?  I’ve lived with powerful chronic migraines since childhood, and a year or so ago, speaking with a friend, I mentioned Santa Teresa as an historical migraineur; my friend exclaimed: “She didn’t have migraines, she levitated!” and I wondered: why should disability and divinity be in opposition? what if sickness, as a liminal state between life and death, is a spiritual pathway? what if, instead of as tragic figures, we saw our crips as mystics? I’m also interested in Santa Teresa as the descendant of crypto-Jews forced to convert under the Spanish Inquisition, and I’m exploring some of my own experience as one of the few Jewish kids growing up in an overwhelmingly Catholic environment.  

I’m working on a play about sisterhood, Long Covid, and the Shekhinah called DESCENT (INANNA IS HERE, ERESH-KI-GAL IS HERE TOO). DESCENT will wind together conversations between me and my sister around her ongoing struggle with Long Covid, my own reflections on how I came to live in a crip bodymind long before the pandemic, and the myth of the Queen of Heaven’s descent into the underworld to mourn with her sister. I’m working on a play about the intertwined histories of the suburbs, television, and the assimilation of Jews in America called MUM, OR: DO STEPFORD WIVES DREAM OF THE WHITEST SHEEP. Set against a century-spanning backdrop of protests and pogroms, of bodily autonomy won and lost, of hair dyes and diet pills and Stepford-ian dreams, MUM is the cradle-to-grave story of one second-generation Ashkenazi-American woman: how she passes through the gates of suburbia by whittling herself down and assimilating into Christian whiteness like a bone. A play with an episodic hermit crab structure that takes on the live taping of a multi-cam sitcom as its shell. And—here’s the one that’s just an idea in my notebook—I really want to write a big silly musical farce playing on all of those romantic comedies built around a holiday that jumble together a bunch of different mini love stories, and I want to call it GARRY MARSHAL PRESENTS: PURIM!  

 JArts: The American Jewish community has seen a 400% rise in antisemitic acts since October 7. Have you experienced anything that you might categorize in this way, or had any experiences in relation to Jewish work that has made you uncomfortable?

Eddy: A non-Jewish friend wondered aloud to me why any American Jew would feel afraid in this moment, and that conversation left me with a feeling of unease I haven’t been able to shake. Not because I believe the question was antisemitic but because I didn’t—and still don’t—have a simple answer to offer. It requires us to use a wide angle lens, doesn’t it? Because the answer isn’t rooted only in this present moment but in our history: in the stories we tell about our people, in our inherited trauma. There’s a beautiful essay by Arielle Angel (“Beyond Grievance,” quoted above) editor of JEWISH CURRENTS, from the summer 2022 issue of the magazine that I’ve been thinking about a lot in the last year-plus of working on DRIVING IN CIRCLES—in it, Angel is looking at how we process our inherited grief and trauma. She recounts a conversation she had with Maia Ipp (co-founder of the New Jewish Culture Fellowship), where Ipp says: “If pain is the primary mode of meaning-making, determining a hierarchy of suffering seems inevitable, which we know leads in dangerous directions.” These words have been ringing in my head for five months now. 

I know many of us are afraid, and I think we have to ask ourselves how we want to use that fear and that pain. If we see only our own suffering, we will never know peace. We will never know safety. I’ve seen Jewish organizations ally and march with virulent, bald-faced Christian supremacist antisemites, like John Hagee, and I do not feel safer. I’ve seen other Jewish organizations accuse Jewish-American peace activists of antisemitism for allying with Palestinian-American peace activists—when we name calls for peace acts of antisemitism, I do not feel safer. We have to ask ourselves and our community where we are channeling our fear and pain.  

There’s a moment, early in DRIVING IN CIRCLES, where I cry out: “Lord, we don’t protect our children.” This line gets harder to say everyday. DRIVING deals most directly with child abuse in the context of American family-making, and when I wrote this line, I was trying to get at the ways in which we need to listen to our children—I was trying to say that as long as we downplay or disrespect or undermine our children when they express distress, that until we listen and respond to their distress with tenderness and curiosity, we will never be able to protect the children in our lives. But when I say this line, every night, I am thinking of all children. I am thinking of the night I saw Toshi Reagon’s PARABLE OF THE SOWER, and Reagon asked the audience at the top of the show: “What are you all doing to protect trans kids?” I am thinking of Nex Benedict. I am thinking of the Israeli children we lost to unthinkable violence on October 7, and of the thousands of Palestinian children we have lost to American-made bombs since. I am thinking of Wadea Al-Fayoume. I am thinking of my beautiful, brilliant, funny, wonderful Lebanese-Jewish niece who turned 1-year-old last October, and I want to know what I can do, what we can do, to protect her. I want to know how we make a better world for her and for all of the world’s children.  

In a 2018 edition of Tikkun Magazine, Jay wrote a beautiful piece about their grandmother Helen. Read it here


JArts’ mission is to curate, celebrate, and build community around the diverse world of Jewish arts, culture, and creative expression. Our vision is of a more connected, engaged, and tolerant world inspired by Jewish arts and culture.


  • 1.

    Re-authoring trauma as a means of personal and communal healing is at the core of Jay’s work, something that art and theater present unique opportunities. For Jay, this spans deep genetic trauma like that caused by the Holocaust to immediate issues like reactions to the events of October 7. Do you have space to process trauma? Have you seen other plays that have helped you tap into your own life experience?

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