By Molly Shimko
“Chocoholic” is, in the following order, a bright, clever, cheeky, insightful, painful, raw, and beautiful look at addiction, its roots, and its effects on our lives. Taking us on a journey that moves effortlessly from light to dark, Lilly Dennis presents the story of her addiction (as she calls it) to chocolate as a trial in which she is the accused. Bringing up multiple versions and aspects of herself as witnesses, Ms. Dennis draws us in and cultivates our trust with humorous and relatable characters, leading us to confront uncomfortable truths about our inner selves.
The play begins with a simple set ‑ a small box laid with a teacup and saucer, and a tray table holding a large chocolate bar labeled “Exhibit A” ‑ reflecting Ms. Dennis’ clarity of vision and structure. Immediately upon entering, she takes on the role of a courtroom narrator who guides us through the piece and addresses us as the “ladies and gentlemen of the jury.”
Ms. Dennis instantly creates an atmosphere of comfort and ease. She has a quietly confident, unaffected, and good‑natured air that makes her easy to root for. Her first witness is an elderly version of herself, and she puts her physical and verbal comedic chops on full display. Delightfully and deliciously silly, craftily extracting the comedy of a chocolate addiction trial, she warms the audience up with genuine laughs.
Moving seamlessly between the different facets of herself, Ms. Dennis offers insightful tidbits, such as “Lilly loves chocolate because it will never leave her,” and harsh truths, as when she admits that she loves the pain: “I love it. I am it. I like inflicting it.”
Ms. Dennis shrewdly portrays the different aspects of herself, and expertly shows us the troublesome, rough, and disturbing reality of addiction, even when it is to chocolate. This is especially true when we see Ms. Dennis aged seventeen and at present day. Here, we delve into the meat of the story, and learn about the tragedies Ms. Dennis had experienced. She deftly guides us through the maze of emotions that one feels when losing a loved one. She handles extremely sensitive topics such as miscarriage and death delicately and gently, while acknowledging uncomfortable and painful truths.
Finally, as Ms. Dennis speaks to us as her current self, all the pieces of the story fit together. Still brilliantly interlacing bright comedy with absolutely gutting heartbreak, she bares her pain onstage, bringing us inside her experience and reminding us that “the majority of the world knows the pain [she’s] talking about.”
Ms. Dennis closes the play by sharing an intimate letter written to her by a loved one. The letter reads in the same wonderfully warm and bittersweet tone that mixes humor, love, and deep sadness, and this authentic glimpse into Ms. Dennis’ soul is perfection. She reminds us that her need for chocolate is, in actuality, a coping mechanism to deal with underlying pain. Her show leaves us with the feeling of an unfinished melody, apropos to the truncated ending in her life that led her to chocolate.
Written and Performed by Lilly Dennis
Directed by Debra De Liso
November 23 at 7:30 PM
Photo: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Theater Festival
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
MOLLY SHIMKO is an artist and writer originally from Vermont. After obtaining her MFA in Musical Theater from The Boston Conservatory, she moved down to Brooklyn, where she currently free-lances as an editor and illustrator, and works for the New York Public Library and The Juilliard School. Most recently, Molly co-wrote and directed The Fling LP, a new musical play, for The New York Theater Festival Summerfest.