This boomer’s not just a columnist; now he’s a playwright too

Over the years BoomerCafé has published wry essays by Indiana-based columnist Garret Mathews, who has penned more than 6,500 pieces on every subject from moonshiners to murderers and Appalachian snake handlers to mail-order brides. But perhaps none was more important than one piece he wrote for us a couple of years ago, called “A baby boomer comes out of the closet.” It was about a discovery late in life: he had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Well now, he has written about that … in the form of a play that was just produced in Indianapolis. It’s a fascinating story, and one worth sharing.

Let me set the stage. There’s this (mostly) cheerful guy named Max, who has Asperger’s. He’d like to go on a date with the (always) overwhelmed Victoria, who also has Asperger’s.

Finally, Max summons the courage to make the call. A miracle happens and Victoria is interested. They agree to meet for lunch at the only place Max feels comfortable: the break room of the McDonald’s where he works in the drive-through.

The cast of Garret’s play. He’s the fellow in the middle in the red jacket and gray T-shirt

Will they hit if off, or just sit around and eat fries?

That’s the premise of “Make Me A Perfect (Asperger’s) Match,” my two-act play that was produced for the first time earlier this year in Indianapolis.

It’s mostly a comedy, but earns an “R” rating for one flashback scene when Max recalls verbal and physical abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his late father, who never accepted his son’s diagnosis.

The play is loosely based on some folks on the autism spectrum who I’ve met since 2016, when I learned I have Asperger’s myself.

Here are opening pages:
———————

ACT 1, Scene 1 – Inside Max’s living room.

MAX sits nervously on a chair. He wears nerdy clothes and a rubber wristband. On the adjoining table is a cell phone, the sports section of the newspaper, a hand towel, and a stack of white index cards. MAX arranges and rearranges these items to make sure they are in perfect order. MAX bites off a fingernail and carefully puts it on the arm of his chair.

MAX, looking at his watch: 6:56. Four minutes until I ring her up. I want to go on a date. Deep breath. I don’t want to go on a date. Deep breath. What to do.

MAX picks up the index cards.

MAX: Note to self. Trust the cards. They’ll get me through it. Beat. Maybe.

MAX picks up the cards and reads the one on top.

MAX: Conversational topics, icebreakers. I have dry hands. Do you have dry hands? MAX puts this card at the bottom of the stack and reads the next one. MAX: Will the two Koreas ever unite, or will there always be a demilitarized zone? MAX puts this card at the bottom of the stack and reads the next one. MAX: Conversational topic if she is having her menstrual cycle? I had cramps once in gym class, and, boy, did that hurt. MAX puts this card at the bottom of the stack and reads the next one. MAX: Conversational topic if she is losing interest. I’m just not myself today. I expect my goldfish to die at any moment.

Still holding the index cards, MAX reaches for the hand towel and wipes perspiration from his forehead.

MAX: I’m as ready as I’m ever going to be. When he finishes wiping the sweat, he carefully places the hand towel exactly where it was on the table.

MAX, to himself in doubting fashion: Female companionship… I don’t know. Maybe I should stick to what I’m good at … being alone.

Garret Mathews

Suddenly MAX takes a leap forward. This signals the intervention of MAX’s confident ALTER EGO.

ALTER EGO, in strong voice: This is your Alter Ego speaking. Buck up. Ask Victoria out.

Leap backward. This signals the return of doubting MAX.

MAX, in weak voice: I don’t know what to say.

Leap forward. This signals the return of MAX’s confident ALTER EGO.

ALTER EGO, in strong voice: You work the drive-through at McDonald’s. You talk to people all the time. “Whatcha craving for today?” Beat. “Wanna try an egg white delight?” Beat. “Sorry, but we don’t take American Express.” You’ve got this. Piece of cake.

Leap backward. This signals the return of doubting MAX.

MAX, in weak voice: It’s different with girls.

Leap forward. Return of confident ALTER EGO.

ALTER EGO, in strong voice: Nonsense. You and Victoria are members of the same online matchmaker service, Love, Asperger’s Style. You’re an Aspie. She’s an Aspie. You asked to be paired up. She asked to be paired up. Go for it.

MAX, timidly: She won’t like me.

Leap forward. Return of confident ALTER EGO.

ALTER EGO, in strong voice: Yes, she will.

Leap backward. Return of doubting MAX.

MAX, timidly: No, she won’t.

Leap forward. Return of confident ALTER EGO.

ALTER EGO, in strong voice: Look. The computer did its thing. Victoria’s name came up on your radar and your profile came up on hers. You remember filling out the questionnaire. Are you scared of the dark? Do you have zero common sense? Do you try to make a friend, but give up because it feels like there’s a layer of Plexiglass between the two of you? Our main man Max answered yes, yes and yes, did he not?

Leap backward. Return of doubting MAX.

MAX nods timidly.

Leap forward. Return of confident ALTER EGO.

ALTER EGO: Victoria filled out the same form. Need a night light? Check. Have the common sense of a farm animal? Check. Have no friends? Check. It’s a match made in heaven. Beat. Or at least Central Indiana.

———————

While I wanted to entertain the audience with “Perfect Match,” I also sought to enlighten them about Asperger’s. I invited experts on autism to participate in talk-backs at the conclusion of each show. Cast members discussed how they prepared for their roles, and I fielded a few questions about the structure of the play.

I’d love to see “Perfect Match” staged in other venues. To that end, I had several DVDs made from one of our performances. If your theatrical group is interested, I’ll be happy to send one, no charge (as long as supplies hold up) and/or a full script. And if you do the show and it’s not too far a drive, I’d be happy to come.

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