A Cold Day in Hell

by Jan Quackenbush
  • 50 Minutes
  • 1 Male 0 Female Max/Min 1

Community, Simple Set, Touring


A Cold Day in Hell portrays one man’s effort at resolving his despair at his dilemma of having a hospitalized, comatose wife, apparently with no hope of recovery, and grown children who seem to him to be self-absorbed and detached from his plight.
A tour-de-force single-character play by author Jan Quackenbush, its actor, Michael Liscio was awarded a 1988 Los Angeles Dramalogue Award in a long-running production by the California Cottage Theatre, 1988-1991.


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  • Review Script 9.00 Watermarked PDF Download
  • Hardcopy 11.00 Delivery 1- 3 Weeks
  • Class/Group Study 45.00 Printable PDF for Multiple Copies
  • Multi-Copy PDF 30.00 Printable PDF for Cast/Crew

Performance Fee $60.00 A Production License Fee Per Performance (mandatory for all performances)

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Play Details


The play begins with Charley clumsily setting up his video camera (this is not the first time), then settling himself on his couch to record what’s on his mind, He speaks into his rented video camera to make a record of his thoughts to leave to his children. He announces his firm intention to “finish this up” and go into Betty’s room, disconnect her, then shoot himself.

He struggles to bring to the surface his haunting inner condition – his massive sense of guilt – with a confession he has never made nor told before.

Yet, as he brings forward his confession, we see that Charley just may “soften” – and “give it one more day” – perhaps come to a measure of acceptable terms with himself, his wife, and his children, which is the end-note of the play.

Living with his guilt, and with the apparent hopelessness of Betty who lies comatose in her hospital room (she does not appear on stage), life for Charley is indeed a persistent hell.


1988-1991; Winner of a Los Angeles Theatre Critics Dramalogue Award for the sole actor, Michael Lisio



From the Play

Play Excerpt:

Cast List: Charley – middle-aged.
Time: The present
Place: Charley’s home.
Approximate Running Time: 40-45 minutes

Play Excerpt:

I was just . . . going through my mind . . . how I can. . . sit next to Betty there and talk about the weather or a ballgame or the leak in the roof- – nothing serious, just another goddamn annoyance when I least need it- – but I’m sitting there making small talk, and . . . I didn’t use to, you-know. I used to talk about reasons for living, stuff like that. I’d say, like, ‘Betty, what you are going through is like a hibernation, so do not worry about it ’cause your body knows what it is doing, and what it is doing is fixing itself up from the inside and keeping you asleep . . . (patting his leg hard): . . . so you do not stir things up!’
(He brings his hands up helplessly, and shrugs; then):
I do not talk to her about her brain. I do not talk to her about that ’cause that is the center of her problem as far as I can understand from what the doctors tell me. You’d need a dictionary to understand them half the time. But, anyway, there is this thing about one side of her brain taking over the workload of the other side- – they told me to think of it like changing shifts in a factory – – but what I am saying is if I was talking to her about her brain I don’t know what side I’m talking to, and if she is hearing me I don’t wanna go and screw things up in there.
(He stares a brief moment- – apologetic, baffled; then):
Hey, maybe you think that’s stupid, but there’s alot of things that look stupid in this world which, believe me, if you knew more about it they might be smart. And I don’t pretend to be a genius like there’s alot of phonies that do!
(Squirms, relaxes a little, then):
So . . . what I do not do is I do not talk to her about her brain. And for a while there, I was talking to her about what sounded to me like some pretty good reasons for living. (Pauses; then): Usually, though, I’d end up with me as being the main reason.
(Pauses., then):
Maybe you think that’s a joke, but I was trying to give her something to hang her hat on.


  • April 28-29, 2021 - Virtual Production

    Celebration Arts, Sacramento,  CA

  • Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA June 2017

    Dramatic reading by Tim Gleason, under the auspices of the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA


  • The Venue on 34th in Norfolk, VA October, 2009

    October 2009 – Performed at the Venue on 34th in Norfolk, VA

  • Know Theatre Co., Binghamton, NY, 2003

    2003 – Produced by Know Theatre Co., Binghamton, NY

  • Edinburgh Fringe Theatre Festival in 1988

    1988 – Presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Theatre Festival in 1988

  • The Cottage Theatre, Van Nuys, California 1988-91

    From 1988 – 1991 presented by The Cottage Theatre, Van Nuys, California. Roy Brocksmith, Producer.

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