A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens, adapted and directed by Michael Shamata, with Joseph Ziegler, Kevin Bundy, Susan Coyne, Oliver Dennis, Deborah Drakeford, Patrick Galligan, Tanja Jacobs and John Jarvis. Presented by Soulpepper Theatre at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queen's Quay West). Previews Saturday (December 15), opens Sunday (December 16) and runs to January 6, Tuesday-Sunday 7:30 pm, matinees Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 2 pm (except December 19 at 1 pm; no show December 20). $45, youth $25. 416-973-4000.
oliver dennis is unpacking hislunch: soup, fries, bagel, salad, a turkey and corned beef on rye and a piece of fudge cake. We're doing an interview over a rehearsal lunch break as Soulpepper prepares A Christmas Carol for holiday audiences. "All this?" he wails comically.
"Don't worry about the leftovers," calls his wife and fellow actor, Deborah Drakeford, from across the room.
"Might as well bring the whole cast into this feast," Dennis adds with a smile.
That kind of generosity also marks Dennis's style as a performer, whether he's working with Theatre Columbus, the clown-inspired troupe that often creates its works from scratch, or the classics-based Soulpepper.
He's been with Soulpepper since its first season, playing not only the sour-faced Malvolio in Twelfth Night but also the shy Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire and the dignified Count Lerma in Don Carlos.
Now he's Bob Cratchit and a few other characters in A Christmas Carol, adapted and directed by Michael Shamata. It's a role he's done twice before, in Fredericton and London.
How does an actor give new life to an old part and a well-known story?
"Michael keeps bringing fresh ideas into rehearsals," he says, playing with his soup.
"Yesterday we were doing the scene in the Cratchit household after Tiny Tim's death, and it felt too sentimental. Michael told me to fight against showing the family my sadness.
"And I suddenly realized that Cratchit, who is about to lose his mind for grief, has to keep control of his feelings. The struggle made the scene more profound, more active and less cloying."
For all his good work with Soulpepper, I can't forget Dennis's performances with Leah Cherniak's and Martha Ross's Theatre Columbus. He's expert at combining goofiness with humanity, whether he's a nerdy hotel clerk listening for outer-space noises in Lonely Night And Other Stories or a friend unwittingly caught up in infidelity in The Betrayal.
The laid-back Dennis lights up when I mention that company, which even gave him the chance to play the merchant Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard. He collaborates with Theatre Columbus next spring in their take on Peer Gynt.
"Clown is about openness, about being available to create a character in the moment with what you're given by the text and the other actors. That process is the same in either Shakespeare or a contemporary piece."