With DIAMOND DOGS, The House Theatre Levels Up to a New “Planetary Level” of Awesome

With DIAMOND DOGS, The House Theatre Levels Up to a New “Planetary Level” of Awesome

Cast of DIAMOND DOGS. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Review: DIAMOND DOGS at The House Theatre

By Hilary Holbrook

I love science fiction because the most common of human emotions resonate more deeply when taken out of the realm of “everyday life.” Unrequited love has a much more profound impact when your lover is about to be frozen in carbonite, and greedy villains always seem way more sinister when their selfish whims hinge on the destruction of a planet. It’s thrilling, relatable, and never ceases to make my imagination soar. So, when I realized that DIAMOND DOGS, the House Theatre’s latest thriller, was going to tackle this genre onstage, my excitement happily jumped into light speed, and, with the exception of a few lengthy bouts of exposition, The House more than delivered.

Based on the short story by Alastair Reynolds and adapted by Althos Low, DIAMOND DOGS follows a rag-tag group of space travelers on their journey to conquer an Alien spire, a floating contraption in the distance, that evokes as strong a desire to conquer it as a mountain climber feels for tackling Everest. This is where the story hit a proverbial “black hole.” To advance within the spire, the band of space cadets must solve a math problem at each level. The overall tone of the piece is decidedly dark, but that one aspect made me giggle because, if re-adapted with kids in mind, this would prove an effective tool to get kids interested in both theater and math. Win-win!

Jokes aside, this speaks to a broader point regarding the piece as a whole. From the top of the show, the actors are seemingly at “code red” level alarm, which puts both the audience and the actors at a distinct disadvantage because, as the stakes continue to rise, it gets more and more difficult for the audience to pay attention. At a certain point, it’s natural for anyone to tune out and think “Well, just how much worse can it get?” I would have liked to see more moments of “non-doomsday” interactions between characters — even the crew of Battlestar Galactica had moments where they would play cards in the galley. These moments are important because it helps the audience relate to the characters more fully and appreciate plot points — especially the dramatic ones — more profoundly. Without them, we’re left with a string of highly unlikely scenarios with no relatable emotional impact. It does, however, help to assemble a stellar crew.

John Henry Roberts (Swift) does well as our reluctant hero, and is an excellent foil against Chris Hainsworth’s smarmy “Childe.” Elana Elyce (Hirz) gave us much of the seldom used but very appreciated humor, and Katherine Keberlein (Celestine) takes the badass heroine trophy for figuring out incoming perils well before her male counterparts. Abu Ansari (Forqueray) and Joey Steakley (the alarmingly creepy “Trintignant”) round out the space travelers, with Lindsey Dorcus filling out the cast as a puppeteer. Piloting this motley crew is a stellar design team, who deserve way more than a gold star.

Lee Keenan’s set and lights were just the right mix of dark and ominous, and yet captivating. Sarah Espinoza’s sound design added an eerie layer of familiarity but still managed to make me jump in my seat several times when the actors were in some serious trouble. This was awesome but also presented a problem because the moments where sound and music took over led to the actors shouting on stage, which led to information being lost. I prefer to be scared and know why than to be scared and think “What did I miss?” I also enjoyed the puppet designs (Mary Robinette Kowal), costume design (Izumi Inaba), and the simple spooky tunes of Kevin O’Donnell. This design team successfully transformed the Chopin Theatre into another world, and that is no small feat.

This play was a gutsy move by the House Theatre, and one that I rather enjoyed. At times, the spectacle of the piece flirted with overtaking the story, as opposed to enhancing it, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying myself. Sci-fi lovers, theatergoers and newcomers would all enjoy this piece, and I hope that more theaters, including The House, continue to take bold risks in adaptation, production, and design. The results are a true pleasure for all involved.

DIAMOND DOGS runs through March 5th at The House Theatre of Chicago. For more information visit thehousetheatre.com

About author

Hilary Holbrook

Hilary Holbrook has worked as an actor and violinist in Chicago since graduating from Loyola in 2008. When not in the theater, Hilary enjoys knitting, antiquing, and adventures of all kinds!