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To ‘Aspies’, us ordinary ‘neurotypical’ humans seem strange, irrational and even wildly incomprehensible. What if an Aspie boy met an incomprehensible ‘neurotypical’ girl, asked Max Mayer; the question led him to make Adam.

Adam marks the breakout feature film by Max Mayer, who has directed more than 50 new plays Off-Broadway and around the country, and has also directed for some of television’s most prestigious shows, including Alias and The West Wing. His inspiration for Adam came, rather appropriately, out of the blue. One day, Mayer was riveted by a story he heard on the radio about a man living with Asperger’s Syndrome, an increasingly common form of high-functioning autism that is hallmarked by an inability to read what other people are thinking and feeling. Those with Asperger’s Syndrome can be highly intelligent, even off-the-charts brilliant, but are often socially cut-off because they perceive ordinary human behaviour as strange, irrational and even wildly incomprehensible. They are, essentially, “mindblind.”

It struck Mayer that we all get a dizzying glimpse at that kind of confusion in romantic relationships – when we each become bumbling amateur detectives trying to figure out this total stranger that makes our heart beat faster -- and he couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like for a person who has Asperger’s Syndrome to carry on a romance with someone who doesn’t. The concept seemed rife not only with relatable mishaps but a vivid new way to view the pinnacle of human emotions -- from the fresh perspective of someone who sees emotion differently.

"disaster-prone, version of romance"

Thus was born the character of Adam. If women are from Venus and men are from Mars, Adam appears to be from another galaxy entirely, but that doesn’t stop him from going after his own, albeit disaster-prone, version of romance with remarkable spirit and courage.

“When I heard that man on the radio talking about Asperger’s Syndrome, I realized that not only was he describing his own very moving journey but also something about the general human condition,” says Mayer. “We are all trapped in our heads – and can only make guesses about what another person’s experience is of the world, even those we love. That’s what inspired me to begin ADAM. As I started writing, I realized that Adam’s relationship to Beth is an extreme version of a very common dilemma we all face in life: the urge for an intimate connection to that which is necessarily strange – another person with their own view of the world.”

A long-time New Yorker, Mayer wrote ADAM as a classic Manhattan boy-meets-girl-in-a-building romance – but with a unique twist. After all, this boy and this girl have more than just the usual circumstantial obstacles standing between them; they have the mystery of the human brain itself.

To create Adam as a fully-fledged character, Mayer began by looking into what little is known today about Asperger’s Syndrome. Like Adam, those with Asperger’s have also been noted as being shockingly straight-forward truth-tellers and entirely unconcerned with social conventions. It is thought that the Syndrome has probably existed for most of human history. Indeed, it has been speculated that a number of famously “hard to understand” scientists, writers, artists and other geniuses may have had the Syndrome, including Albert Einstein, Amadeus Mozart, Isaac Newton and James Joyce, among others.

"a growing, empowered community"

While Asperger’s Syndrome can be isolating and debilitating for some, many people who live with it also excel in achievements, especially in our increasingly high-tech world. Today, there is now a growing, empowered community of people with Asperger’s Syndrome, who refer to themselves as “Aspies.” (Coincidentally, in Adam Elliott’s award winning Australian animated feature Mary and Max, Max is also a New York ‘Aspie.’)

“Aspies don’t talk about it in terms of a handicap, they just call the rest of us ‘neurotypicals,’” points out Mayer. “When I went to some Asperger’s meetings, I saw a wide spectrum of people but basically they all share the same trait of not being able to pick up on emotions from facial expressions or instincts. That part of the world is more mysterious to them. Yet, the Syndrome is also associated with a number of verifiable geniuses.”

Mayer sketched Adam as someone at the upper end of the spectrum – highly intelligent, capable of leading his own offbeat, independent life yet isolated from romance because he’s never known how to reach out of his inner world – that is, until he is forced into it by his new neighbor Beth’s interest in him. “Adam functions well and has a lot of really cool interests, like astronomy and theatre, but he’s essentially been cut off from the outside world. He’s doing OK but realizes it isn’t the way to be when he bumps into Beth,” explains Mayer.

In creating Beth, Mayer crafted a volatile chemical mix with someone who is Adam’s complete polar opposite – a highly emotional, intuitive, socially vivacious woman who is looking for a deeper kind of love than she has ever known. As a veteran of the New York dating scene, Beth thinks she has seen it all. But Adam is an experience unto himself. Initially attracted to Adam physically, she is taken aback to find that his odd behavior and strange intensity draws her in even further, and she has to admit, no matter how different he is, she’s never felt like this with anyone.

“Beth meets Adam before there’s any label on him, so by the time she learns about his Asperger’s Syndrome, she’s already interested enough in him as a human being that it just becomes another piece of information,” says Mayer. “Of course, she thinks he is cute, but when they get to know each other better, it’s his honesty that really gets to her. It’s something she’s really thirsty for in her life and it’s refreshingly different from what she’s had in her past relationships.”

"to create sparks"

The collision of Adam and Beth is destined to create sparks, but it also pushes both of them to places they didn’t know they could go. “They each find something liberating in the other,” Mayer explains. “For Adam, Beth is like a graduate course in Human Relations, he learns so much about how to deal with the world from her. For Beth, Adam shows her how to freely express herself, how to live honestly, how to finally be true to who she is.”

Published August 20, 2009

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