Justin Stark and Riley Berris in <i>These Walls</i>

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Justin Stark and Riley Berris in These Walls

‘These Walls’ at On the Verge

Cuddles Lead to Complications in New Play

Olivia Khoshatafeh’s These Walls reflects on the conflicting messages that contemporary American culture sends on the value and role of physical intimacy. Marcy (Riley Berris) is a professional cuddler, a made-up occupation that parallels the work of a therapist while at the same time pressing on the fringes of something more salacious. But that’s not how Marcy sees it. She’s fully equipped with the latest in protocols for keeping her relations with her clients completely professional. The only problem is how frequently she needs to invoke these boundaries. Justin Stark plays Raoul, a performance artist who has set himself the task of living entirely in public for an unspecified amount of time, sleeping, eating, reading, and even, it is implied, relieving himself in a clear plexiglass box located inside a museum. When Marcy falls for Raoul, she does so in part because of, rather than despite, this enforced physical isolation. Berris was great in this role, giving each of her clients, who included Doug (Richey Nash), Lilith (Jessica Ballonoff), Robin (Allison Lewis Towbes), and Paul (Josiah Davis) exactly enough support and sympathy for them to embarrass themselves. This was the premiere of playwright Khoshatafeh’s first complete work, and it demonstrated great promise for someone with a vision that is at once quirky and disarmingly clear and direct.

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