Stage great Joan Orenstein dies at 85

Joan Orenstein, a Nova Scotia actor best known for her work on the stage, has died at age 85.

Joan Orenstein. a Nova Scotia actor best known for her work on the stage, has died at age 85.

Orenstein was a familiar face at Halifax's Neptune Theatre — and also played lead roles on stages across Canada — including at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and the Shaw Festival in southern Ontario.

In television, Orenstein appeared on the show Emily of New Moon and the mini-series Shattered City.

A Genie nominee for her portrayal of grandmother Grace in Thom Fitzgerald's film The Hanging Garden, she earned best actress honours at the Atlantic Film Festival for the same performance. She also appeared in the films The Event and Never Too Late.

At Neptune Theatre, she had roles in productions such as Forever Yours, Marie-Lou and Memories of You.

Linda Moore, a former artistic director of Neptune Theatre, said she will remember Orenstein as one of the greats.

"While I was working with her and she was on stage in performance, many people would come up to me and talk about how unforgettable she was and how well she would embody the role," Moore told CBC News. "I would say as I knew her she was always happiest in performance. It's like she really belonged up there."

Acting came late in life

Orenstein was born in London, England, and first came to Nova Scotia through Pier 21 just after the Second World War.

She began her acting career in her 40s, but was prolific, starring in Stone Angel, Road to Mecca and Albertine with Centaur Theatre, Waiting for the Parade and Mother Courage at the NAC, and Mrs. Warren's Profession and Hedda Gabler at the Shaw.

She also appeared at the Tarragon and Canadian Stage in Toronto, Belfry Theatre in Victoria, Theatre Calgary and the Manitoba Theatre Centre.

The Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia called her performances "engaging and electric."

"I want to do theatre that talks to people, that has some real impact on the audience," Orenstein said in a 2001 interview with CBC News.

"In my play a woman talks about the loss of the meaning of words. I feel, the way I can call out to people is in the work I do so I've done a lot of that kind of thing.  I've done Courage, I've done Emily Carr — a lot of strong women who have battled against the elements."

Orenstein has five daughters and appeared on stage with her youngest, Sarah Orenstein, also an accomplished actor, in Mrs Klein and Song of this Place by Joy Coghill at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.