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Why parties always end up in the kitchen

Posted by Robin Abrahams  August 8, 2013 07:22 AM

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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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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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