Sometimes, people who write author Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club) receive in return a box full of random objects from around his house: small stuffed animals, shiny trinkets, items from a junk drawer, whatever he decided it was that you should have. If a past me were currently looking at my desk and the magpie-like assortment of treasures and documents lying around it, she might think that I’d just gotten one of these packages—but I didn’t. These are part of an “Absolute Chronometric Anomaly” I’ve just investigated with Eden, the Director of the Archeological Department and Lead Librarian of the Historical Grand Archives at Project_Infinite_Architect.
Elisabeth Stranathan, creator of 444BIDDEN FRUCTUS—and Eden herself—doesn’t know that Palahniuk is my favorite author… or maybe she does. It wasn’t something included in the questionnaire I filled out upon scheduling my experience, but with how suited to me everything else I received from her was, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn she knows everything about me.
444BIDDEN FRUCTUS is the third in Stranathan’s “Alter-Dimensional Universe Series”, PROJECT_INFINITE_ARCHITECT (444 Tempus Fugit; 444 LIberatio). Dealing with themes of time, human nature, and the self, FRUCTUS consists of a highly personalized physical package, put together with what seems like an unfathomable amount of both randomness and care, and a one-hour Zoom call with Eden/Elisabeth to discover its contents together.
To be clear, “Eden/Elisabeth” is how she signed all her emails to me, and it’s hard to know where character ends and creator begins—though perhaps it is doing Stranathan a disservice to deny how much of a character she is herself. Her casual, confident, and remarkably charismatic demeanor immediately made the sometimes-daunting experience of a one-on-one audience/creator interaction more comfortable. Between completing puzzles and activities or while I unwrapped the artifacts I received, we spoke about my hometown, glitter, and her cat. Her genuine interest in the topics and humans she is working with in this show shines through in her interactions—”Oh!” she said to me when I explained the meaning of a phrase I’d unintentionally left up on my Zoom—“Hold on! I want to write that down.”—and though some may expect there to be more backstory to the character from the set-up of the show, it’s hard for me to see Stranathan’s authenticity as anything but a positive extension of the intimacy of the experience.
Though most of FRUCTUS is unscripted, the opening to the live portion contains a performance of a stunningly-written monologue couched in what is, perhaps, an overly echo-burdened audio effect. Still, along with a day-of email, Stranathan’s writing does plenty to set the vaguely fantastical mood of the show. Light puzzles ensue throughout the live portion to get to the experience’s center, and though they likely won’t provide too much of a hurdle for most, Stranathan does well at guiding and working through challenges that arise, whether on the part of the audience or from parts shifted during shipping.
The physical, however, is so much the experience’s highlight that I somewhat hesitate to call it immersive theater at all. I’d lean more towards performance art… or art with a performance. Though the puzzles do involve the audience in the loose narrative and the themes inherently immerse them in Stranathan’s own philosophies, the centerpiece of this work is the package’s physical contents. It’s tempting to explain what exactly I received, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who may still get to experience this. At the same time, I’d be shocked to hear anyone else’s contained exactly what mine did. Stranathan is a visual artist as much as a creator and performer, and I find myself both touched and impressed by what all she put together for this show. Unique, gorgeous, and dripping in distinct style, the artistry defies expectation, the very nature of some of the objects making the show extend far past the brief time spent on Zoom together—an absolute chronometric anomaly, indeed.
444BIDDEN FRUCTUS is not going to be for everyone. If you’re looking for in-depth story, challenging puzzles, or to get to know fictional beings, this may not be the right show for you. But if you’re interested in an experiencing another’s worldview, feeling seen and treasured, and receiving some treasures of your own, I cannot recommend it enough. With this show, Stranathan creates something both inspiring and interesting, warmly meeting her audience and believing in their ability to transcend time. As my pre-show instructions said, “a pair of scissors may prove fruitful, and of course—your most open of minds.”