Alan Ayckbourn's "Absurd Person Singular" -- currently extended at Central Square Theater through August 25 -- is about three couples gradually and hilariously unraveling over the course of three successive Christmas parties. Where does the action take place?
In the kitchen, of course. Where else? Everyone knows that's where the real action is at a party.
Sociologist Erving Goffman analyzed social interactions as a theatrical performance: we are playing the roles of Promising Job Candidate, Gracious Hostess, Sagacious Professor, or what have you. Many roles require a backstage area in which the "actors" can get into costume, coordinate amongst themselves, organize their props, and recuperate from performing. Some of these real-world "backstage" areas include the locker room, the break room, the teachers' lounge, the mysterious realms behind the Employees Only sign.
And, of course, the kitchen.
Now, everyone knows that a backstage pass is the epitome of cool. To be trusted to see the inner workings of a show, to be one of the cognoscenti. Being allowed backstage is the hallmark of intimacy, of equality.
So of course parties of a certain type always wind up in the kitchen. Because to stay out of the kitchen would be to accept only the show that's on offer. As though you were a mere audience member, and not a fellow performer. Staying out of the kitchen feels both overly entitled (as though you expect your friends to wait on you like servants) and overly restrictive (as though, what, you can't go into your own college roommate's kitchen?). Meanwhile the hosts are doggedly shoo-ing you out, insisting that you sit back and enjoy the show , wondering to themselves why on earth you prefer to hang out with the recycling and leftovers when you could be enjoying the seasonal flowers and ambient lighting in the living room.
Because! The kitchen is where the real action is!
(Clip from "Absurd Person Singular," now playing at Central Square Theater)
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