The Boston Globe

Boston Playwright­s’ Theatre’s ‘Driving in Circles’ proves to be an engrossing journey

- By Don Aucoin GLOBE STAFF Don Aucoin can be reached at Follow him @GlobeAucoi­n.

There are times in “Driving in Circles” when words burst out of Jay Eddy in such a headlong torrent that they seem to be racing one another to the end of the sentence.

And there are times when the words emerge very slowly and deliberate­ly, as if Eddy wants to underscore the effort it’s taken to translate this raw and wrenching story into theatrical terms.

At either tempo, Eddy is a fiercely compelling performer. And “Driving in Circles” is a remarkable achievemen­t.

Eddy, who uses they-them pronouns, graduated from Boston University’s MFA in Playwritin­g program last year. They wrote the script and composed the propulsive score for “Driving in Circles,” structurin­g it as a marriage of monologue and music.

Under the direction of Sam Plattus, that marriage is held in a taut balance at Boston Playwright­s’ Theatre, with the songs often commenting obliquely on the preceding scene or foreshadow­ing the next one — all sung by Eddy as if their life depended on it.

The autobiogra­phical “Driving in Circles” explores the impact on a character called Jill/Bill of the sexual abuse they suffered from the age of 10 to 19. That impact ranges from panic attacks to seizures to PTSD. The abuser is described only as an “older boy.”

Early in the 100-minute performanc­e, Eddy as Jill/Bill tells the audience that they will provide no details on the abuse, saying to the audience in a matter-of-fact tone: “It’s none of your business.”

What is our business, Eddy makes clear, is the necessity to stop the kind of rampant abuse that has scarred so many lives. “I know too many people have stories like mine,” they say. Sometimes those stories fall on unsympathe­tic ears; when they began to tell friends in college about their abuse, one male friend told them they were to blame for not stopping it for so long.

For Jill/Bill, driving an automobile offers a welcome solitude but also a kind of protection, a way of reclaiming power. “Sometimes I drive in circles — people from Massachuse­tts love to drive in circles. That’s a joke about rotaries!” they say. “Mostly, I drive alone. I like being alone. Other people make me anxious, and the car is like a suit of armor.’’

Automobile­s also function as motif and setting in “How I Learned to Drive,” Paula Vogel’s memory play about sexual abuse, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 and was presented in Boston last November by Actors’ Shakespear­e Project.

But Eddy’s dramatic voice is very much their own, a fusion of urgency and a ferocious eloquence. When material is this complex and this personal, it can be hard for a dramatist to settle on an ending, and it seemed to this spectator that Eddy passed up two good spots deep in the musical for “Driving in Circles” to conclude.

As a performer, Eddy is indefatiga­ble, often bounding across the stage and into the audience whether speaking or singing. Eddy is accompanie­d by two energetic musicians, Zach Fontanez on electric guitar and Jordan Palmer on keyboard. Projected onto an upstage screen are snippets of home movies and still photos of Eddy as a small child (the projection design is by Maria Servellon). Those visuals pierce the heart.

But given the subject matter, it’s impressive how many flashes of humor and warmth materializ­e throughout “Driving in Circles.” When a joke fell flat last Saturday night, Eddy said ruefully: “That killed in Brooklyn.” Of a person dear to them, they said: ”Our friendship feels lived-in, like a good sweater.”

“Driving in Circles” has already earned recognitio­n, having won the Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater, presented by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. One suspects there are more prizes in Eddy’s future.

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 ?? PHOTOS BY SCORNAVACC­A PHOTOGRAPH­Y ?? Jay Eddy (top) performs the musical “Driving in Circles” at Boston Playwright­s’ Theatre. Eddy is backed by Jordan Palmer (above left) and Zach Fontanez.
PHOTOS BY SCORNAVACC­A PHOTOGRAPH­Y Jay Eddy (top) performs the musical “Driving in Circles” at Boston Playwright­s’ Theatre. Eddy is backed by Jordan Palmer (above left) and Zach Fontanez.

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