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Micheal Spencer-Davis and Doreen Brownstone
photo by Bruce Monk

Doreen Brownstone
photo by Bruce Monk

Micheal Spencer-Davis and Doreen Brownstone
photo by Bruce Monk

Winnipeg’s beloved “Grande Dame of Theatre”, Doreen Brownstone, returns to the stage in the dark comedy VIGIL at Prairie Theatre Exchange

by Roger Currie, November 18, 2014









Winnipeg’s beloved “Grande Dame of Theatre”, Doreen Brownstone, returns to the stage in the dark comedy VIGIL at Prairie Theatre Exchange






The second Mainstage production of the current season at Prairie Theatre Exchange will bring audiences a rare treat from one of Winnipeg's all-time favourite actors. Doreen Brownstone recently celebrated her 92nd birthday, and she has been performing on stages in this community for almost 60 years. In 1958, she appeared opposite Gordon Pinsent in A Hatful of Rain, directed by John Hirsch. Produced at the old Dominion Theatre near Portage and Main, it was the very first show at Manitoba Theatre Centre, Canada's oldest regional company.






Doreen has seldom slowed down since then, and PTE is pleased to feature her in the upcoming production of Morris Panych's smart and snarky comedy Vigil, from November 19th to December 7th. Panych is one of Canada's most prolific and successful playwrights, and Vigil is one of his most-produced plays, having been performed on stages across both Canada and the U.S. since its premiere in 1995, including at PTE in 1997 with Doreen as Aunt Grace. It’s currently being performed in Tokyo. Described by Maclean’s Magazine as a ‘devilishly funny play (that) laughs in death’s face', Vigil is a play that never loses its edge or its relevance.






Michael Spencer-Davis plays Kemp, a bank worker who receives a letter from his elderly Aunt Grace (Doreen). It appears that Grace is near death, so Kemp quits his job and moves across the country to see her through her final days. But to his great surprise, and apparent irritation, she appears to be getting better. PTE Artistic Director Robert Metcalfe, who is directing Vigil, says “It's a very thoughtful piece that has a lot to say about life, loneliness and old age. It is frequently so outrageous that the audience can't help but laugh, even when they might feel that they shouldn’t be laughing.” He also purposely chose this play as a vehicle for Doreen Brownstone. “She is truly the Grande Dame of theatre in Winnipeg, and we're delighted that she's still working,” he says.






Indeed, as it is for any performer, it's all about 'working' for Doreen. In 2013, she was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Mayor's annual Luncheon for the Arts in Winnipeg. Mindful of the fact that such honours are sometimes seen as 'career enders', in her acceptance speech, Doreen made it abundantly clear that she was “still working, and very much available”. She has a particular fondness for working at PTE. “I feel like Prairie Theatre Exchange is my home, and I love everyone there. There's something about the people – they make me feel so welcome, so comfortable. It's very much like coming home every time I'm there,” she says.








Actors and others who work in the theatre feel very much like members of an extended family, and that's certainly the case with Doreen Brownstone. She says “I have so many people in the community who I consider my daughters, my sons and my grandchildren. I am so well-supported – anything I need, I have people who will take care of it for me. I feel like the luckiest person in the world”. Her extended family will certainly be out in force at PTE to applaud Winnipeg's Grande Dame as Aunt Grace in Vigil.






Vigil runs at Prairie Theatre Exchange from November 19th to December 7th. PTE is located on the third floor of Portage Place. For more information, and to buy tickets online, visit


Photos:  Michael Spencer-Davis and Doreen Brownstone, photos by Bruce Monk

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