Music by Lisa DeSpain, Libretto by David Simpatico

2020 National Endowment for the Arts – Challenge America Award
2018 OPERA America Discovery Grant

Based on a short story by Robert Bloch.
Cast size: 6 principals, chorus

In a distinctly American twist on Faust, an ambitious hobo makes a deal with the Devil for one moment of perfect happiness.

The Story: Martin, an orphan, drifter, and petty criminal makes a deal with The Conductor on that Hell-bound train, one wish in exchange for his soul. Thinking to outsmart The Conductor, Martin asks for the power to stop time and live forever in the happiest moment of his life. Armed with the Conductor’s watch, Martin sets forth on the journey of life searching for that perfect moment, a perfect moment in a life time in which he can live happily — forever. 

(The following selections are from THAT HELL-BOUND TRAIN, NEA Challenge America Workshop LPAC – LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, November 2021)

Time: Sometime in the early 1930s, in the midst of The Great Depression.
Place: In an unspecific train depot somewhere in the American Midwest.

Pa, a luckless drunk and railroad laborer, shovels ballast at the train depot. He is accompanied by his beloved 5-year-old son, Martin because Pa’s good-for-nothing wife (Martin’s Ma,) is off whoring around town. As Pa works (and drinks) he shares some “pearls” of wisdom with his beloved son; lessons about life, Pa’s unfulfilled dreams of life on the rails, and a mysterious tale about The Conductor of That Hell-Bound Train carrying a load of passengers to The Depot Down Yonder.

Pa – Samuel White
Piano – Lisa DeSpain
With Pa freshly buried in the ground, Ma deposits 5 year old Martin on the steps of the Orphan Home. She’s off to pursue a good-time life without responsibility. She leaves Martin with a piece of advice: Life stinks so go find happiness where you can.

Ma – Tesia Kwarteng
Piano – Scott Ethier
Sometime in the early 1940s Place: A depressing orphanage somewhere in the American Midwest.

Young Martin escapes from the miserable orphanage excited to chase adventure out on the rails. Maybe he’ll even meet The Conductor and That Hell-Bound Train full of sinners partying on their way to The Depot Down Yonder. But, it’s just a song his Pa used to sing, right?

Young Martin – Jason Gotay
Piano – Lisa DeSpain
Freed from prison, Martin contemplates changing his ways and joining the Salvation Army. And as if by magic, they appear offering up hope and free cheese sandwiches

Salvation Army Captain – Grace Kahl
Piano – Scott Ethier
After selling his soul to the Devil for one moment of unending, perfect happiness, Martin joins the rat race – chasing that American Dream. After a promotion, Martin has enough money to purchase his first used car – and date girls! As Martin hurls himself into endless nights of one-night stands, he wonders if this is the perfect moment to stop time and live forever. What more could he ever want?

Martin – Samuel White
Betty Joe – Grace Kahl
Mary Ellen – Tiana White
Debbie Sue – Tesia Kwarteng
Office Co-worker – Rocky Sellers
Piano – Scott Ethier
Adult Martin holds his newborn son for the first time. He is flooded with emotion as he reflects on his own childhood and the loss of his beloved father. He contemplates the beauty of the moment and wonders if this wouldn’t be the perfect moment to stop time and live forever.

Martin – Addison Marlor
Piano – Lisa DeSpain
Martin has been caught having an affair. At the divorce proceedings, he tries to comfort Lillian saying that he’s given her everything so she won’t have to worry, she’s strong, she’ll be fine.

Lillian – Tesia Kwarteng
Piano – Scott Ethier

Check out the award-winning short-story by Robert Bloch.



Lisa is a Utah-native, New York City based composer of musical theatre, opera, and concert works known for her American sound.

She is the recipient of a 2018 Discovery Grant from OPERA America in support of her first opera, THAT HELL-BOUND TRAIN. She is the winner of the Opera Kansas 2020 Zepick Modern Opera Commission and the Utah Opera “Spike 150” Opera Commission (NO LADIES IN THE LADY’S BOOK,) with her librettist Rachel J. Peters. Lisa was also a Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellow and writer-in-residence at the Eugene O’Neil Musical Theatre Center for her original musical STORYVILLE created with Oscar Award-winning lyricist, Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

Commissioned by a wide range of ensembles, Lisa has composed works for The United States Air Force Band of Flight, the Cassatt String Quartet, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Copland House/Hendrick Hudson High SchoolNew York Choral SocietyNew Haven Symphony Orchestra, pianist Scott Holden, and the womens choir Bella Voce.

Lisa collaborated with Memphis-born choreographer Donlin Foreman (Buglisi-Foreman Dance,) creating a tryptic of blues influenced dance score; Mean Ole’ World, Rise & Fall , and Song with premieres at the New Victory Theatre (NYC), Joyce Theatre (NYC) and Jacobs Pillow.  

A force in the musical theatre education world, Lisa is the go-to arranger for Broadway educational choral works including HAMILTON, ONCE, AMERICAN IDIOT, NEXT TO NORMAL and more.  

Lisa was the first jazz composer awarded a Copland House Residency. Living and composing in Copland’s home profoundly impacted her artistic mission. Inspired by Copland’s legacy, Ms. DeSpain strives to explore and expand the boundaries of the American musical language, to create artistic works uniquely identifiable as American.

She is a Professor of Music & Theatre at LaGuardia Community College – CUNY (City University of New York) 


DAVID is a playwright, librettist and performance artist whose work has been presented at major theatres around the globe, including London’s Hammersmith Apollo, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Lincoln Center/Avery Fisher Hall,  The Endinburgh Fringe Festival, Franklin Furnace, The New York Public Theatre and New York Theatre Workshop.

His musical adaptation of Twelve Angry Men, received its world premiere production in June, 2022 at Theatre Latte Da in Minneapolis (Michael Holland, composer/lyricist).

His grand opera, The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing, will receive its world premiere at Chicago Opera Theater in March, 2023 (Justine F. Chen, composer) 

Career highlights include The Screams of Kitty Genovese, a winner of the Jonathan Larson Award (Will Todd, composer;) the book and stage adaptation of Disney’s High School Musical; the libretto for Pulitzer Prize-winner Aaron Jay Kernis’ Garden of Light (NY Philharmonic/Kurt Masur).  His Plays include: Mary; Macs: A Macaroni Requiem; The Secret of Life; People, People; Waiting for the Ball to Drop; Bad Blood; and his one man shows, Songs of Medication and Cavalcade of Scars (Ross Patterson, Musical Director).

Current projects include the libretto for an original blues opera, That Hell-Bound Train (Lisa DeSpain,  composer)  a sci-fi rock opera, Rose of Sharon, (Heather Christian, composer) and a Choral/Musical adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol(Will Todd, composer) for Opera Holland Park, London.   

David holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. His thesis Play, Wilde About Whitman, was selected for the twentieth anniversary edition of the Idaho Review.  He is an alumnus of the Composer Librettist Development Program at American Lyric Theater, and a graduate of Northwestern University.  He has received generous support from The Edward Albee Foundation, The Millay Colony, NY Theatre Workshop, the Eugene O’Neill Foundation and the Rhinebeck Writer’s Retreat.  David is a founding Director/Member of A Howl of Playwrights/Rhinebeck, NY and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. 

He lives in Rhinebeck NY with his husband and muse, Robert Strickstein. You can find out more about David by visiting

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