There's a scene in Sam Shepard's play True West where one of the characters acquires a dozen or so toasters through dubious means.
One by one, he inserts a piece of bread into each toaster and presses the levers down.
If you're sitting close enough to the stage, you'll experience a sudden thrill as the unmistakable smell of toast starts to waft over the audience.
Describing this moment doesn't do it justice – it's surprising to smell the action on stage and exciting to discover that someone went through the trouble of running all those extensions cords. The actors really are toasting all that bread.
And there's the suspense. As the scene unfolds, the audience sits on the edge of their seats waiting for every one of those toasters to pop up.
Anticipation is a powerful force.
Some advice for next time you host a dinner party: Make sure that your aromatics – garlic, ginger, thyme, etc. – have landed in a pan of hot olive oil before your guests walk in.
In that first moment, the smells that wash over them will help them anticipate the evening to come.
@visakanv points out that dinner parties are theatre:
Offer up some cheese or nuts as exposition. Serve drinks as you build to a toast before the main course. Then second helpings. And finally, pass out dessert to provide a resolution to the evening.
Savory and sweet. Tension and release.
As audience members and participants in the ritual, we want to feel taken care of.
We want to go on a journey together and discover at the end that we have been – ever so slightly – changed.