The Piano Tuner

The Piano Tuner



About the book

A tragedy in the classic sense, The Piano Tuner follows Bob into his harrowing past, revealing the shocking murder of Bob’s former wife and his subsequent incarceration. But this is also a story of redemption. As Bob struggles to bring the piano into tune, he rediscovers his long-lost son, Baby Boy; it is he who has filled the piano with the sounds, objects, and stories and summoned the piano tuner.

About the author

Astle, Robert

Robert Astle is a writer, director and teacher. His solo plays Heart of a Dog and The Hats of Mr. Zenobe have been produced and performed in Canada, the USA and Europe; the Toronto production of The Hats of Mr. Zenobe  garnered him four Dora Award nominations. In the 1980s he was a member of Small Change Theatre, a company that toured clown and mask plays around the globe. He taught  clown and bouffon theatre at Concordia University as well as playwriting at the National Theatre School of Canada and was the Playwright in Residence at Montreal's Centaur Theatre. He presently lives in New York. 


from Scene 3 Bob Has an Argument with a Piano

Bob: So what’s is wrong with this instrument? Everything. It’s dry, hoarse, dead. It needs, at the very least, new strings and pins and desperately needs some care and attention, but I don’t have any guarantees that it’ll ever play in tune.

Bob readjust a few notes, the addresses the piano directly:

Bob: What comes out of you is just old squeaks and squawks and believe me, you son of a bitch, you are finished.

Bob struggles with a pin, then drops his hammer into the piano.
He follows it inside…the hammer is stuck and he can’t free it. He pulls hard

Bob: Shit, I know it’s you… You can’t forgive. You laughed. You two were like flies screwing on the windowsill on a hot day in August. Everybody knew what was going on. Even the Mormons. Your laughter was hot-hot, and I couldn’t look into those dark-dark eyes anymore.

Bob gives another mighty heave.

Bob: I can’t believe that you’d pull a trick like this. Can’t you can’t find anything better to do than torment me…

Bob gives a huge tug, then stumbles downstage… He is caught for a moment…
He turns and speaks to the public.

Bob: Sorry. Sometimes you have to get personal with pianos, and it seems this piano needs personal care and attention…like, real personal…like, how do you do, you crappy old upright?

He thrusts his hand inside the piano and digs around.

Bob: What the—

The piano tuner struggles with something, trying to find a string or something that is blocked inside…
then he pulls out old photographs.

Bob: Jesus, I’ll find out what is jamming up this damned third octave— God, what a mess…

He puts his hand on the side of the piano and it triggers a sounds of carnival music, as this carnival music is played he pulls various objects out from the piano that make a Ferris wheel. Sounds of people screaming on a thrill ride.
Bob remembers the gaudy junk earring in his pocket, and crosses stage left.
He hangs on to the earring throughout the scene, like a talisman of pain and memory.


Scene 4
Bob and the Talking Horse

Bob: Jesus…The county fair and rodeo…

Bob crosses upstage of the piano, looking at the scene.

Bob: I took the wife and baby boy. The night air smelled like horseshit and warm candy floss. A lot of the military men with brush cuts went to the carnival looking for action. I took Marie for a ride on the Ferris wheel and it was wild. The lights, the crowds, booths to play all kinds of games: ring toss, knock-down cans, whack-a-gopher, and there was the side show, with all the freaks — the rubber man, the bearded lady, and lobster boy. The most popular was the Talking Horse, who gave out premonitions on crops, rainfall, and advice on when to plow and seed. You paid fifty cents and the horse would stomp on the ground and talk in a gruff voice. It was fake but supposed to be really funny. Even some of the Mormon farmers snuck in to hear what that horse had to say. Many locals believed in that horse sense.

From the two sides of a piano, an imposing image of the Talking Horse appears.
The Talking Horse sounds like a poor imitation of Elvis.
Bob crosses stage right with "Marie" and "Baby Boy"…

Bob: I took Marie to see the talking horse, paid fifty cents, and the horse stomped three times then reared it’s head back, and whinnied fearfully. There was a wild look in its eyes. Marie fell back into my arms, and the Horse spoke:

Elvis Voice-over: "Once upon a time there was a baby boy who had lost his mother and father. Everything was dead and there was nothing in the whole wide world. And because there was nothing in the whole world, the boy went away and searched day and night. And because there was nothing left on earth, he decided to go to Heaven, and the Moon looked at him so kindly! But when he reached the moon he found it was a piece of rotting wood, And he went to the sun, he found it was a withered sunflower, and he came to the stars they were golden gnats that a crow had stuck on a blackthorn bush, and when he wanted to go back to the earth, all that was left was a broken piano, and he crawled into the piano, and lived like a wild child…and he cried, and he is still there all alone…"

Bob: Marie was terrified and bolted from the tent. I stood still for a long time just staring at that horse… You know, I don’t know what came over me… Marie ran out of the tent and straight into the arms of the Captain. He was dressed in his civvies, just lookin’ for action. You know, I don’t know what came over her… I ran through the crowds holding on to Baby Boy for dear life. Damn if he didn’t lose his little shoe, and I had to go back to look for it. Damn, I never did find that shoe. I asked some of the military men, and they saw Marie and the Captain jump on the Ferris wheel. I saw the Captain give Marie something shiny. She told me later that she’d won in them a game — the little mechanical claw snatched the cheap plastic earrings… The Ferris wheel spun through the warm horseshit and candy floss smelling air then into the clear starry night. From hot to cold, and cold to hot. I watched as my beautiful wife was spun away into the night, I was holding on for dear life to our bawling- piss-in-his-diapers and one-shoed Baby Boy.

Bob stumbles, backs away stage right from the piano, and then addresses the audience directly…clutching the earring.

Bob: It was exactly like that. I never touched her, never did, but scared her with my eyes you know, that "I’m gonna kill you" look. I saw the two of them wheeling around, from hot to cold, and cold to hot. I knew you two were up to something. Something was up. And it wasn’t right.

Bob collects his thoughts. The Ferris wheel stops, the horse vanishes.
Bob stumbles around the space finding his things.

Bob: Is this some kind of practical joke?


Bob: I don’t know who you are, or why you are doing this to me, but I’ll tell you, this is no joke. You phone me, I come all the way down here on the bus, walk through the snow, find my way into this hall and you have this piece of garbage for me to tune…I can’t see it, but feel it here, and here and look at these cracks, and graffiti, and rounded-off edges in the case. Maybe there’s something beautiful and fragile left here, but I haven’t found it. All I can find is a dirt and filth and someone else’s memories.


You can’t fool me. Tell me what you want from this old rotting carcass? Listen, whoever you are…if you want to play —let’s find a new piano, or at least one that can be tuned. Do you hear me? Huh? Do You Hear Me!


Bob: Bitch…

With disgust and barely contained rage, Bob thrusts the earring into his pocket.
He crosses upstage to the piano and picks up the tuning hammer, and slashes at the piano wire…
He discovers a single skate, and he grabs it, and holds on to it, then sits on the piano stool…


Astle's solo piece strikes major chords of classic tragedy in telling the story of a man who fell into the abyss and touched bottom. The text makes a deep impression with its naturalistic, controlled language and relentless dramatic trajectory, which… >>

The Montreal Gazette

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