A mass of facts and myths

Acclaimed one-person play explores the life of Winnipeg guitar legend Lenny Breau

  • Pierre Brault in 5 O’Clock Bells. – Christina Riley

Writer/actor Pierre Brault and director Brian Quirt are about to bring a legend back home with their highly acclaimed one-person play 5 O’Clock Bells.

The play opens the Manitoba Theatre Centre 2009/2010 season tonight (Thursday, Oct. 8). It’s about the life of one of the all-time great jazz guitarists, Winnipeg’s own Lenny Breau.

Breau was an innovator and pioneer in the world of jazz guitar. He had unmatched technical and improvisational skill. Today, his praises are sung by the likes of Randy Bachman and Leonard Cohen.

Beau’s personal life is as interesting as his music. He was a seeming innocent who became involved in drugs. Then his life was tragically cut short when he was murdered and thrown in a Los Angeles swimming pool. The case is still unsolved.

The idea to write a play came to Brault after picking up a Lenny Breau album in a second-hand record store. He put it on and had what he calls his “Lenny Moment.”

“It was the most natural, inspiring, honest music I’d ever heard.”

Brault became interested in Breau’s story. What he found was a mass of facts and myths.

Brault wanted to focus on the whole of Breau’s life, not just the huge dramatic moments. Brault says that the drugs and mysterious death are just a part of who the artist was. He was a man as complex as his music, and Brault wanted to show that.

Director Quirt worked with Brault throughout the writing process. They found that Breau could speak the most through his music. He became an unseen presence, with the audience only catching glimpses of him.

5 O’Clock Bells circles Breau, focusing on seven people who were most important in his life.

These people each represent a string on Breau’s instrument of choice, the seven-string guitar. When played together, they create a harmony that is Lenny Breau.

“We are not dealing with facts as much as events,” Quirt said.

5 O’Clock Bells provides the true events of Breau’s life through the different perspectives of key figures. Through this, the play also forces the audience to create opinions on these events, bringing them into the story.

Brault and Quirt are excited to bring their play to a Winnipeg audience.

“There is a love for the arts in Winnipeg that is lively and inviting,” Brault said.

Quirt said that they always hoped to bring 5 O’Clock Bells to Winnipeg.

He added that “one of the great treats” is when someone who knew Breau comes up to them after the play and tells them their story.

“There is so much of Breau’s history [in Winnipeg] – a lot of people who knew him are still around,” Quirt said.

Published in Volume 64, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 8, 2009)

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