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'White Sangria' brings new meaning to 'games people play'

Mind games abound in the new play by Kansas City native playwright, Arika Larson at KC's  Just Off Broadway Theatre, and produced by The Melting Pot.
Mind games abound in the new play by Kansas City native playwright, Arika Larson at KC's Just Off Broadway Theatre, and produced by The Melting Pot.
David Brown and Courtesy of The Melting Pot

"White Sangria" at The Melting Pot


A new play by a native Kansas City playwright, currently living in New York, “White Sangria,” produced by The Melting Pot, made its world premiere, Friday, May 2, and runs through May 18, at the Just Off Broadway Theatre with weekend night performances at 7:30 and Sunday matinees at 2..

"White Sangria" comes from the pen and mind of playwright, Arika Larson
Arika Larson and Courtesy of The Melting Pot

The Melting Pot founder, director, and executive producer, Harvey Williams announced spoke to the opening-night audience prior to the performance’s beginning. Williams said that this was the first year for melting pot to produce an entire season. He said they were sharing the space in the production with another company, Journeyman productions. Williams said that this year was devoted to producing plays by Kansas City email playwrights.

The first production was “The Frowning Vajayjays of Shady Pines Pines ,” by Vicki Vodrey. “White Sangria” marks the second of three productions. Next up, a new play by Michelle T Williams, “Echoes of Octavia,” ends the melting pots first season.

Williams said he was more than pleased to work with author Arika Larson on :”White Sangria.” Williams, founder of KC Melting Pot, said that The Melting Pot wants to focus on local talent, works created by local writers, performed by local talent, and hopefully supported by local audiences throughout the greater Kansas City area.

Larson said she is happy to join the Melting Pot KC team for this amazing season of works by KC women. Her plays have been seen in three Kansas City Fringe Festivals. Fringe attendees may recognize this piece from the 2011 Festival where it won best-selling show in its venue, Larson said. Though she now lives in Brooklyn, she said she is thrilled to returm home to Kansas City and work with such a talented group.

Williams directs “White Sangria” for The Melting Pot. The cast features: Jonathon Engle, Sabrina 'Brie' Henderson, Coleman Crenshaw and Melody Butler.

“White Sangria,’ looks at gender, power, love, beauty and what brings us together or tears us apart," Larson said. "Ben and Marla are a regular suburban couple. They like to play games. They like to have friends over. They like to drink sangria. And they like to ‘tell lies.’ John and Susan are coming over tonight, and they have no idea what’s going to happen . . . and neither do Ben and Marla.”

The play, “White Sangria,” takes place in the suburbs of Portland, Ore., and hopes to bring more meaning to "what does not drive us apart can only bring us together," Larson said. On the surface, one will note the similarities between this play and two other productions. Immediately one is reminded of the Edward all the classic, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” The other production, more obscure, is the movie, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.

“White Sangria” stands apart from those shows in that its characters and plot line take the audience on a whole different joyride. Ben and Marla invite two sets of couples over for an evening of drinks. One couple cancels the other couple is in for an evening they will not soon forget.

The mind games begin even before the guest couple arrives. Ben and Marla start a game of “one upmanship” as the story begins. What seems like a perfect relationship in a perfect suburb begins to display the cracks in the relationship. And has cheated on Marla by taking someone else’s wife bowling a few times. Was it innocent or was it the precursor of a sexual act? Is Ben innocent, or has he been caught by Marla?

The Truth and Lie Game begins as the curtain goes up and the characters reveal the different layers of their personalities. As their “new friends,” Susan and John enter the picture midway through Act I, the games get more intense in the questions between truth or fantasy really muddies the water.

Heap lots of credit on Sabrina “Brie” Henderson said a personal best record in the number of words both memorized and performed in her career. The part of Marla in “White Sangria” allowed Henderson to show her vast memorization skills and bring life to a character full of many layers and emotions. Her opening-night performance came without flaw. She displayed that she can develop and carry a character and slowly take the audience along with her as her character develops deeper and deeper.

Her male lead in “White Sangria,” Jonathan Engle matched Henderson’s performance with ease. Engle’s character, also word heavy, allowed him to showcase his range in delivering a funny line, followed by a sarcastic or evil line. His character goes from light, to dark, to light, to funny, to angry, and back again. As Engel’s character develops he shows layer underneath layer to the character he brought to the production.

As uncomfortable guest visiting for the first time, Melody Butler, as Susan Hardin, gives a very strong performance in a supporting role. As the innocent, sweet young lady visiting for a glass of wine and chat, she finds herself tested by coffee-table books and then the mind games of Ben and Marla. They lead her into uncomfortable situations that no guest should be privy to and watch as she acts and reacts to each new situation. Butler performs a beautiful portrayal of the most uncomfortable guest in an awkward situation. Her interaction and reaction are well executed.

The nerdy and awkward librarian, John Martin, comes to life via Coleman Crenshaw. Crenshaw takes this opportunity to display his wonderful comedic timing and his mastery of facial reaction. The expressions he produces as Marla teases him sexually are hilarious. He walks the line between shy and excited and makes the audience feel the awkwardness of the situation that surrounds him.

“White Sangria” presents the audience with a verbal sexual encounter as the play opens with an innocent greeting, a courting/flirtatious stage, a foreplay stage, and the attempt to move toward an amorous encounter. As the layers of each character reveals itself to the audience, the audience follows where the action takes them.

What’s real and what’s lies remains a mystery that only the characters of Marla and Ben know. The play is well conceived and well acted. Williams directed the piece with a masterful I toward revealing his characters strengths and flaws perfect timing. He elicited wonderful performances from all four of his actors. The show is adult fare, and not appropriate for younger audiences.
Playwright Larson was in attendance for the premiere, and said she would be in Kansas City again for the fringe Festival where she has another piece, this time a comedy farce, “Doing It the Easy Way.”

Larson’s play “Foreign Bodies” will be produced at The Artist’s Movement in 2014 in New York, and her play “Birthday Boy” is a semifinalist for the 2014 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. Look for her brand new comedy, “Doin' It the Easy Way” in this summer’s KC Fringe Festival.

“White Sangria,” opened Friday, May 2 and runs through Sunday, May 18, curtain time Thursday through Saturday is 7:30 p.m.. Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m. Ticket prices are: $25 or $20 for seniors and students. For industry nights, Thursdays, tickets are $15. To Reserve or Purchase tickets online visit: or purchase by phone at 816.226.8087 or 816.914.1520. Just Off Broadway Theatre is located at: 3051 Central in Penn Valley Park, Kansas City, Mo. 64108, 816.784.5020.

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