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Red-carpet night fit for theatre queen

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Doreen Brownstone has just turned 90 and as Winnipeg's oldest working professional actor is still awaiting another casting call.

The new nonagenarian was feted Friday night by about 150 friends, representing almost the entire acting community in the city. She got the limo and red-carpet treatment and then spent most of the evening seated on a throne as revellers serenaded her with songs, stories and good wishes.

"It was the most wonderful night of my life," says Brownstone. "I was so bedazzled and amazed. On the red carpet into the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre lobby I felt like the Queen on a walkabout. I don't known when I will get over it."

Brownstone, who first performed on stage in 1943 in her native England, is the subject of a documentary that will be broadcast on MTS Winnipeg on Demand and has agreed to be the star of a feature film. Both projects are being developed by the film production team of Angus Kolm and his partner Stefanie Wiens.

"We thought it would be great to capture one of her performances on film because most of her best performances were on stage," says Kohm.

The working title is The Doreen Brownstone Movie, which Kohm compares to HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, in which Larry David plays Larry David. She will play a fictionalized version of herself as a one-time movie star who at 90 is having to accept work in more questionable, lower-budget flicks. It will also focus on her apartment block and her relationship with her colourful neighbours.

"She didn't take much convincing," says Kohm, a writer with several fringe festival hits who majored in film at the University of Manitoba. "We mentioned the idea of making a movie and she was excited right away. She loved the script and said, 'You're giving me a reason to live.'"

Kohm and Wiens have spent the last five months conducting interviews with friends and former castmates for the documentary. In Toronto they spoke with the likes of actress Seana McKenna, director Miles Potter, MTC co-founder Tom Hendry and Allen MacInnis, former artistic director of Prairie Theatre Exchange. They also plan to talk with Gordon Pinsent, who co-starred with Brownstone in MTC's inaugural production, A Hatful of Rain, in 1958.

Kohm was filming Friday night, capturing Brownstone's reactions to being in a limo for the first time and pulling up to a waiting throng outside RMTC.

"She was floored," says Kohm, who must complete a rough cut of the documentary by the Oct. 31 deadline. "She screamed with delight."

The ever-spunky River Heights resident is performing bit parts in a local movies and is still hoping to appear again on stage.

"I could still do Yente (from Fiddler on the Roof) because I've done it seven times, including in Yiddish in June," says Brownstone, who had a hip replacement in 2005. "I don't know if I could still do eight shows a week.

"I'd hate to finish my career floundering on stage."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 2, 2012 C3

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