Diamond Dogs House Theatre Chicago

Thu-Sat 8p; Sun 7p until March 5th

"Massively ambitious and hugely distinctive new show.. staging is very cool and high-tech and Lee Keenan's set and lights are a major off-Loop achievement" - Chicago Tribune

Diamond Dogs is a classic deadly-maze story set in Reynolds's Revelation Space Universe. This world premiere production by House Theatre of Chicago marks the first of Alasstair Reynolds' works to be adapted for another medium. We follow a future team of humans and transhumans as they investigate a mysterious alien tower, bent on brutally punishing all intruders. Blood will spill.  (Recommended 14+)

01/13/17 - 03/05/17

Thu-Sat 8p; Sun 7p

Dazzling 'Diamond Dogs' needs to let us join the adventure, Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 1/23/17 - "
Alastair Reynolds, a British astrophysicist who turned his hand to penning fiction, writes what is known as "hard sci-fi," or, yet more intensely, "dark, hard sci-fi." The term - which you are forgiven for not knowing - is often used in reference to the likes of Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov or even Carl Sagan.

It describes works that place a premium on technical accuracy, or, maybe more accurately, technical possibility. Put another way, it means science fiction where the writer really, really knows the actual science, as distinct from softies like Ray Bradbury or Audrey Niffenegger. Or "The Planet of the Apes."

Reynolds - whose novel "Diamond Dogs" forms the basis of the massively ambitious and hugely distinctive new show at the House Theatre of Chicago and who once worked for the European Space Agency, sure knows the science behind his dystopian yarn, set in the 26th century at a point when humans have figured out some semblance of immortality, mostly by learning how to keep their bodies rejuvenating and by learning how to install their human essence within artificially constructed machinations. It's not that hard to believe that we'll be able to work on some arms and legs to keep in reserve for when our own wear out, or that we'll dream up healing machines when an appendage is toast. And I for one can buy that someone will be able to make Siri or Alexa less distinct from humans. I already often prefer them.

The main character in the work, a scientist named Swift, also takes advantage of a new technology allowing a memory wipe so you don't fret over an ex-wife, for example. Nice. Lots of uses for that. But what's perhaps most interesting about "Diamond Dogs" is how Reynolds homes in on the cost of all this science - Swift, played at House by John Henry Roberts, points out that immortality, or what passes thereof, also comes with a kind of death. Think about it. What we think of as death will surely change in the future. It will come to depend mostly on definition.

If you're still reading, you likely will like a lot about "Diamond Dogs," which I'm told has been attracting lots of Reynolds geeks who frequently partake of more than one viewing of director Nathan Allen's skilled and quite spectacular production, an indication of the veracity of this new heady dramatic adaptation by Althos Low, which is a pen name for a group headed by longtime Chicago actor Steve Pickering.

In the theater, this premiering work plays out a bit like you're watching participants in a maze or in one of those now-popular escape rooms. If you'll forgive the drastic simplification, you're basically watching a group of diverse adventurers - chosen for various specialties and played by Abu Ansari, Elana Elyce, Katherine Keberlein, Chris Hainsworth, Joey Steakley (not that you can see Steakley's face) and Roberts himself. This crew of voyagers lives on the planet Yellowstone, which is where we neo-colonist earthlings headed after our own joint froze and enjoyed a kind of nouvelle belle epoque.

In the show, their main task is to penetrate from below a cylindrical structure floating just about the surface of the planet. It is a creation of sadistic-but-smart aliens, it seems, and it's basically a giant puzzle requiring anyone who enters there to solve various tasks - number sequences and the like - before they can move to the next hall.

If they fail, they might find they get their arm chopped off. For the tower delivers punishment as well as reward.

The issue with this piece - which I think still needs work - is that you need to care more about these voyagers. That may sound a long way from hard anything, and so stipulated, but that would prevent you sitting there thinking "and why again are they doing this?" all night, coupled with its corollary, "and why again should I care that they are?"

That's what needs fixing in the adaptation - the staging is very cool and high-tech and Lee Keenan's set and lights are a major off-Loop achievement, not the least for how Keenan makes this show look like nothing you've seen. That's also true of Izumi Inaba's costumes and Mary Robinette Kowal's puppet. Still, the show needs a lot more dramatic build. Bizarrely, for such an action-driven piece of theater, it lacks narrative tension. We need to get on board with these probers of the alien tower. It might be the 26th century, but we still need to feel like they represent us, or some future version of us.

So that's what needs to be done, some decent performances (especially from the leads Keberlein and Roberts) notwithstanding. Perhaps there's a way to involve us more in the tasks being solved - right now they remain too oblique and they go by too fast for us all to join forces as solvers. There's much here to stimulate and intrigue. My head hurts writing about the show. Now, as that softy writer E.M. Forster once said, "only connect."



No Diamond, Just Rough A Review of Diamond Dogs at The House Theatre of Chicago , Kevin Green New City Chicago 1/25/17 - "With the inauguration just days in the rearview and a spate of minor-by the skewed (excuse me, "alternative") standards of this new administration-scandals already in progress, I freely admit that I came to House Theatre hoping for distraction. Instead, what unfolded over the course of two-and-a-half tedious hours was not an escape from the outside but instead a blithely insensitive embrace of it.

"Diamond Dogs," a half-baked, high-concept sci-fi snoozer, starts checking off problematic boxes quickly and remains consistent throughout. It carelessly (almost gleefully) dispenses with a black female character (one of only two characters of color in the cast) after the white male anti-hero spends the first half of the play verbally assaulting her. Meanwhile the rest of the crew supports his actions through their silent complicity. Later, a smart, capable and industrious female character's maternal instinct kicks in for her juvenile ex-husband (who, by the way, forcibly suppressed his memory of her) just as she begins to grasp the full extent of his emotional vacuousness. Finally, the play actually expects us to sympathize with a man (by the final twenty minutes, he is more like a diamond-encrusted smartwatch) who is unable to resist the lure of the unattainable and readily willing to sacrifice anything and everyone in pursuit of it.

If there is a case to be made that "Diamond Dogs" is actually attempting to be critical of its seemingly glaring misogyny and thinly veiled racism, it would take some Kellyanne Conway-level spin. The closest we get is a vague line of questioning regarding the morality of the pleasure dome of affluence. However, even this is buried beneath expository jargon and bald stereotypes. At one point, a character suggests that the rest of the team needs to "try harder." On the whole, I couldn't agree more.

The message this play broadcasts loudly and relentlessly is that white people are the worst. But the extent to which the original author or the adapting company recognize that this is what they are transmitting is questionable at best. There is little evidence to suggest any sense of self-awareness. In 2017 this kind of artistic and ethical negligence isn't just disappointing, it's irresponsible"

Diamond Dogs, Tom Williams ChicagoCritic.com - "Science Fiction is difficult to mount on stage due to technical challenges. The House Theatre of Chicago has produced several stage-worthy whimsical SCI-FI productions over the years but Diamond Dogs is not one of them. Rather it is a "hard sci-fi' style that necessitates more rigorous science and dystopian atmosphere of pessimism. With much tech-speak dialogue, Diamond Dogs quickly becomes hard to follow leading to boredom.

Add the staging problems like having the thrust stage built too high that produces bad sight-lines for much of the audience and the difficulty comprehending the action is enhanced. The lack of movement or action slows down the work. Let me try to explain what I saw. First, let me state that I'd not a sci-fi fan and this "hard sci-fi" is totally alien to me. I got lost in the early dialogue trying to set up the adventure for the characters.

Diamond Dogs is set in the 26th century with a team of human scientists and soldiers as they investigate a mysterious alien tower that seems to brutally punish all intruders. These characters must uncover clues and solve puzzles in order to solve the mystery. Each character will make dangerous sacrifices to get to the top of the tower. These thoughts come from the press notes as I quickly got confused as to what and why things were happening.

The cast: Chris Hainsworth (Childe, a villain) John Henry Roberts (Swift, the narrator). Elaine Elyce (Hirz, raw adventurer), Katherine Keberlein, Celestine, Swift's former wife), Abu Anseri ( Forqueray, the group leader), Joey Steakley (Trintignant-a masked creature), each work hard with the strange complex and poorly staged thriller. The unique human limb puppets resemble albumin foil as arms and legs.


I never understood what all the movements by the characters through the arched doorways was for until someone a day later explained to me that was how the cast moved up to the top of the tower. That is an example of how difficult Diamond Dogs was to follow. I wonder just who is the target audience for this show? Maybe fans of sci-fi, especially fans of Alastair Reynolds and fans of "hard sci-fi will find this play worthy? The lighting effects by Lee Keenan were excellent adding eye-popping scenes. Too bad that only happened late in the show after most audience patrons had zoned-out on the play. Unfortunately, for once The House Theatre of Chicago, Diamond Dogs simply didn't work on stage for general audiences.



Review: The House Theatre's "Diamond Dogs" , Jacob Davis BuzzNews.net- "The House Theatre of Chicago artistic director Nate Allen introduces the world premiere of Diamond Dogs, an adaptation of a short story by Alastair Reynolds, by noting that it is "hard sci-fi" and a departure from the optimism usually implicit in House Theatre shows. Since a significant plot point of Diamond Dogs is people undergoing medical transformation into floating diamonds, I question how "hard" the science in this fiction actually is, but I think it is fair to say that the term signals that the story caters to a different set of expectations and interests than people usually expect from other genres. The House has also performed enough tragedies recently, including an adaptation of The Bacchae, that the optimism Allen refers to is meant in the sense that people have significant enough good qualities for their self-destruction to elicit sorrow. Diamond Dogs doesn't really do that. Like Moby Dick, one of the stories best known for a pessimistic view of peoples' graces to flaws ratio, Diamond Dogs depicts people slowly killing themselves in pursuit of an idiotic objective, but it depicts them in a manner which is far more frustrating.

The adaptors, called Althos Low (a group also known as Shanghai Low Theatricals led by Steve Pickering) are working from one of sixteen stories within Reynolds's Revelation Space series. The backstory is long and complicated, but basically, hundreds of years from now, humans have colonized space, developed cybernetic enhancements to our bodies and intelligence, and can skip over the boring centuries traveling in between stars by freezing and unfreezing ourselves.

Our viewpoint character, Richard Swift (John Henry Roberts), is still youthful at one hundred and seventy-two years old, and in mourning for his parents and dozens of other people who died in an experiment meant to achieve immortality. It seems that effective immortality has been achieved through other means anyway, but Swift refuses to criticize the dead, and while honoring them, is surprised to find their leader, his boyhood friend Roland Childe (Chris Hainsworth), still very much alive. Childe claims he has found the key to technology which could lead to resurrection, and asks Swift to join his exploration team.

Though no living aliens have been encountered thus far, traces of their long-dead civilizations have been found, and Childe is particularly interested in a structure he has named Blood Spire on a desolate planet he calls Golgotha. The Blood Spire is a floating spiral tower with a pile of corpses at its base. Childe claims to have spoken with a survivor who said that to climb within the tower, explorers must answer increasingly difficult mathematical questions as they move from room to room. A wrong answer results in mutilation, and repeated failures in death. Also, the Blood Spire's AI is advanced enough to be considered sentient. The motley crew Childe has assembled consists of Swift, Swift's ex-wife, Celestine (Katherine Keberlein), who has cybernetic implants to make her a math whiz and whom Swift has had suppressed in his memories, Forqueray (Abu Ansari), a captain, Hirz (Elana Elyce), a mercenary hacker, and Dr. Trintignant (Joey Steakley), a fugitive who kidnapped and murdered dozens of people while developing new cybernetics.

They do not get along and their attempts to climb the tower do not go very well.

It takes until the beginning of the second act for somebody to point out that they do not have the slightest reason to believe that the tower is in any way related to their supposed objective, and even longer for someone to point out that there is no reason to believe the tower would ever allow them to win. However, it is also made clear early on that none of their objections matter. While Captain Ahab was a charismatic figure who inspired his men to believe in him and made them feel valued, Childe is a bully who immediately resorts to physical intimidation and openly delights in humiliating his crew and watching them quaver in terror of Blood Spire's traps. But he's only one man, and what really keeps the other five returning to the tower again and again is ego and spite. I was reminded while watching Diamond Dogs of a game my family played last Christmas which all of us hated, but which went on for hours because none of us would quit first or allow ourselves to loose. Diamond Dogs is about people who are supposedly very intelligent and truly loathe each other doing something with serious consequences for losing, but not winning.

As for the staging, it's technically brilliant, but in service of a story which is claustrophobic and cerebral. Lee Keenan has supplied all sorts of special lights to create the Blood Spire environment, and several of these are integrated into Izumi Inaba's very cool space costumes. Inaba and sound designer Sarah Espinoza also had the foresight to put microphones into the masks and helmets. Mary Robinette Kowal's puppets are also visually impressive, and I gather that they are considerably more graceful and ghostly than what is described of the titular diamond dogs in Reynolds's text. But Allen's direction can't avoid the Sisyphean nature of the plot and theme, so the visual elements' power wears thin after not very long.

The six actors also do a fine job with broadly written characters. Steakley, in particular, has mastered an odd movement vocabulary, which he relies on because Dr. Trintignant always wears a mask and may not even have a face. Roberts is also a stand-out in a role which requires the audience to become increasingly disillusioned with his character. For fans of the Revelation Space series, Diamond Dogs is a must-see, and The House's production values are used here in service of an interesting aesthetic rarely seen elsewhere. But the aggravating nature of the story makes it important for anybody who is not a hard sci-fi fan to know what they are getting into beforehand. Certain plot points late in the play which seemed too convenient or didn't make sense made me even more frustrated. Diamond Dogs has its strong points, but is firmly situated within its niche".



The House Theatre presents DIAMOND DOGS Review: Entering Another World at the Chopin - Lauren Katz, picturethispost.com - "The House Theatre is known for showcasing "intimate, original works for epic story and stagecraft." There is quite a lot packed into that small mission statement, but DIAMOND DOGS certainly only serves as proof that The House Theatre succeeds in their promises.

Adapted by Alastair Reynolds and Directed by House Theatre Artistic Director Nathan Allen, DIAMOND DOGS is based on the science-fiction adventure by Althos Low. The story follows a team of six scientists and soldiers who set out to examine an alien tower. Childe (Chris Hainsworth) brings the team together for their particular strengths in intelligence and combat, all to be led by Captain Forqueray (Abu Ansari). We quickly learn that the tower clearly wants no intruders, and with each clue that brings the team closer to understanding its purpose, they take get one step closer to a potential point of no return.

This particular story fits into Reynolds' sixteen story set: Revelation Space Universe. Low's adaptation is full of suspense, and certainly acts as if it is an installment in a larger world of adventures. While I may have a liked a little more closure at the end, there is a cliffhanger that leaves the audience wondering what will happen next, which looking back, adds another level of intrigue.

To what end will we go to find the answers, and at what cost? Each suspenseful turn of events plays to this key question and more over the course of adventure.

Stellar Tech and Design
Helmed by Allen, the DIAMOND DOGS design team has succeeded in creating another world for all the senses.
Scenic and Lighting Designer, as well as House Theatre Company Member Lee Keenan utilizes the small intimate space of the Chopin Theatre in a creative manner, succeeding in drawing us into this universe through a theater-in-the-round setting. While the set elements are limited, the few Keenan uses are certainly effective. In the middle of the space is an elevated platform on which the story takes place - reminding us that that this world exists above and outside our own. Keenan includes two movable door-frames, acting as a symbol for moving in between rooms within this tower. The pieces would light up in various colors depending on whether the explorers made the right or wrong choice to enter the room, which only raised the stakes, especially when combined with the sound elements.

Sound Designer Sarah Espinoza in collaboration with Composer Kevin O'Donnell increased the tension through loud, and rhythmic musical pieces that would repeat throughout the performance. The scientists had to solve puzzles in order to determine when it was safe to enter a room, and when a wrong choice was made, the sound team repeated the same loud, "error" bell. The choice was certainly effective in increasing the suspense, especially as the events unfolding became worse. I found myself anxiously wondering what would happen next, especially when the volume increased, and the repetition became more frequent.

Costume Designer Izumi Inaba utilized color in a great way, which enhanced the stage aesthetic. In particular though, her choices in the design for Trintignant were especially striking. This doctor has used questionable methods to enhance his being - making him almost unhuman. Inaba's design makes him look other-worldly in an understated manner, fitting into the simplistic design of the stage.

Lovely Ensemble Effort
DIAMOND DOGS is about a team trying to survive - and the ensemble as a whole worked well together. The various personalities of the characters melded beautifully, and created some nice moments of tension when they clashed.
Some standout performances included Elana Elyce as Hirz with her spot-on comedic timing. The script included some snarky, sarcastic humor, and she rose to the occasion wonderfully, making her scenes some of the funniest moments in the play.

Joey Steakley as the Doctor had a challenge in that his face was covered by a mask - we could not see his facials, and he had to express in different ways. However, Steakley showcased some excellent physical acting abilities that helped push the character across. The Doctor has a menacing, eerie feel to the character that Steakley shared through flowing gestures that often invaded the personal space of the others on stage.

DIAMOND DOGS involved use of puppetry, and the main puppeteer, Lindsey Dorcus, as well as Chris Hainsworth (Childe), Katherine Keberlein (Celestine), and John Henry Roberts (Switft) handled the task beautifully. Their grace helped the puppets become an accepted part of this world and their characters, which enhanced the overall aesthetic.
Creative design and an exciting story make DIAMOND DOGS a show you do not want to miss! If you have a passion for science fiction, get your tickets before it is too late.


From House Theatre - Diamond Dogs is a classic deadly-maze story set in Reynolds's Revelation Space Universe. This world premiere production at The House Theatre of Chicago marks the first of Reynolds' works to be adapted for another medium. We follow a future team of humans and transhumans as they investigate a mysterious alien tower, bent on brutally punishing all intruders. Blood will spill.

Artistic Director Nathan Allen teams up with The House's most inventive designers to bring this unique universe to life. Body modification is the norm in the 26th century, and award-winning puppet designer Mary Robinette Kowal articulates and re-shapes our actors' human forms into powerful mechanized players battling for their lives.

Alastair is one of the new generation of dark, hard science-fiction authors in the universe-building tradition of Larry Niven. The sub-genre is termed New Space Opera. And Diamond Dogs, itself - a stand-alone story set in the Revelation Space Universe - is a combination of all those, plus a pure example of the Deadly Maze Story - staple of roman science-fiction since H. P. Lovecraft.


Alastair Reynolds; Althos Low

Nathan Allen

Chris Hainsworth; John Henry Roberts; Elana Elyce; Katherine Keberlein; Abu Ansari; Joey Steakley; Lindsey Dorcus;

Lee Keenan, Scenic and Lighting Designer; Izumi Inaba, Costume Designer; Sarah Espinoza, Sound Designer; Kevin O'Donnell, Composer; Mary Robinette Kowal , Puppet Designer; Derek Matson, Dramaturg; Eleanor Kahn, Properties Designer; Brian DesGrange, Stage Manager. Jesse Roth- Assistant Director; Meghan Erxleben - Assistant Lighting Designer; Bobby Huggins - Technical Director; CoCo Ree Lemery - Scenic Charge; Jerica Hucke - Costume Manager; John Kelly - Master Electrician; David Trudeau - Assistant Master Electrician; Cole von Glahn - Sound Board Operator; Rachael Koplin - Assistant Stage Manager; Brandon McCallister - Assistant Stage Manager; Kate Grudichak - Wardrobe Supervisor

Tags: Theater, American, 2017