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Daniel Mitchell as Raymond Babbitt, and Alex Dimitriades as Charlie Babbitt, in Rain Main. Photos: Natalie Boog.

*After its Kirribilli season, Rain Man will tour to Canberra (The Playhouse, 13-17 July), Penrith (Q Theatre, 20–24 July), Belrose (Glen Street Theatre, 7-18 September) and Wollongong (Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, 22-26 September).

POSTED: 18 MAY 2010

Rain Man, adapted from the screenplay by Dan Gordon, directed by Sandra Bates.

Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, Sydney | Until 3 July*

When Daniel Mitchell and Alex Dimitriades take the stage as Raymond and Charlie Babbit for Ensemble Theatre’s production of Rain Man, they have some big shoes to fill.

For most people, to talk about Rain Man means to talk about the 1988 movie, which starred Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in the respective roles.

The film took out four Oscars ... best picture, best original screenplay, best director and, for Hoffman, best actor in a leading role.

As I said, big shoes to fill ... very, very big shoes indeed.

That they largely succeed is not just enormous credit to them, but also to director Sandra Bates and her team and, of course, the other actors ... Catherine McGraffin (Charlie’s girlfriend Susan), Gary Baxter (Dr Bruener, Raymond’s long-time institutional supervisor) and Paul Gleeson and Matilda Ridgway, who both play a range of roles.

Raymond Babbit, based on a real-life character from Cincinatti, suffers from an extreme form of autism.

The upside is that he’s a savant. He remembers everything, in enormous detail. He can scan and memorise a phone book in a matter of hours. He won’t get on planes, unless it is a Qantas plane, because he knows the safety records by rote. And man, can he count cards.

The downside is that he has virtually no social skills and limited emotional responses. He survives by following rigid routines. “Wednesday is fish sticks. Green lime jello for dessert.”

Daniel Mitchell is wonderful in this role, absolutely convincing, both physically and mentally, from go to whoa. Like Hoffman, he has implanted Raymond Babbit under his skin.

The withdrawn physicality ... the monotonal, absolutely emotionless delivery of fact after fact after fact ... the furtive glance when he farts. It is sensational acting.

Charlie Babbit is a wheeler and dealer, a loud, brash sort of guy who’s pretty damned hard to like, let alone love ... as his girlfriend Susan rapidly discovering.

He only discovers that he has a brother when his father dies and leaves his substantial fortune to Raymond. That’s when he “kidnaps” Raymond in an effort to get his share of the inheritance.

Alex Dimitriades is perfect in the role. He has Cruise’s looks and, it seems, an innate sense about what it takes to be a mean, thoughtless bastard.

His softening, though, is just as convincing, as he gradually succumbs to his Raymond’s witless charm and establishes a genuine bond with the brother he thought was once an imaginary childhood friend he knew as “Rain Man”.

This is a moving, touching play. The outcome may not be exactly perfect — against Charlie’s wishes, Raymond is returned to institutional care — but it’s a story that reverberates with humanity and really does leave the audience with the warm and fuzzies. “Bet your butt!”

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