Daniel Mitchell and Alex Dimitriades in Rain Man.


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

Ensemble Theatre | Glen Street Theatre, Belrose, Sydney | Until 18 September

When Charlie Babbit (Alex Dimitriades) is informed of the death of his estranged father he also discovers he has an institutionalised, autistic brother, Raymond (Daniel Mitchell).

Added to this shock factor is the notification that Charlie’s only inheritance is to be his father’s prized rosebushes, whilst Raymond inherits a fabulous $7million. Charlie needs this money — business is not doing well.

Anxious to save his business, Charlie drives Raymond to Vegas to exploit his savant genius. In classic road style (this time minus the car) Charlie is mellowed and changed by this emotional journey.

This story war originally told in the 1988 film of the same name. The play updates to the present day but otherwise is faithful to the original screenplay.

The absence of the car, which provides the extended journey metaphor, is a problem.  Instead there is a backdrop — a magnificent, stimulating map of the States — which provides the changing locations. But most scenes are left to take place in motel rooms and this staging dilemma causes the loss in translation from film to stage and stunts the enroute spirit of the story.

Dimitriades portrays Charlie, the struggling, luxury-car dealer. Dimitriades is convincing as the selfish, arrogant but determined younger brother. It is an entertaining performance but his tone does remain one dimensional when he eventually comes to terms with the severity of Raymond’s autism.

Mitchell’s version of Raymond is more conscious and creative. This is a sensitive performance that is both physically and emotionally eloquent. Mitchell masters a gangling walk, a monotonous manner of speech, with rapid dialogue delivered in a mechanised voice punctuated by tics and stammers.

Raymond’s awkward limbs and ragdoll movements are beautifully synthesised in the scene where Charlie teaches Raymond to dance. In scenes such as this we get sudden heart-piercing glimpses of sympathy in which we experience Raymond’s immeasurable isolation.

The hesitant emerging bond between the siblings culminates in the exceptionally poignant scene when the two brothers recall childhood events and Charlie discovers that Raymond was the Rain Man, his imaginary friend.

Charlie realises he loves his brother but knows he needs to let him return to his routine and familiar, albeit institutionalised environment. The script is a sentimental depiction of autism as very few suffers of this cruelly isolating condition are gifted with the memory showcased by Raymond Babbit.

However, Sandra Bates’ direction and the resolution do not overindulge in sentimentality.

The supporting characters are functional, if a little clichéd and hampered by the dreaded stage American accent.

It is an intense but not entirely heart-stopping show, and sometimes strangely lacking in urgency. Despite an impressive duo of performers, too often the drama is merely illustrative of a transcript.