As our story begins, we find Johnny Howland waking up in a coffin and wondering how he got there. He discovers he has amnesia, and as he tries to get his memory back, he continues with his work, faking it with his clients and looking for clues. Who wanted him dead, and also who killed Hanfield Rivers, or is he even dead? Mrs Rivers, the supposed widow, is your classic ‘film noir’ dame. Have fun with costumes and makeup, and play out the parts like ‘Bogart and Bacall’. The big difference here is a sweet young Christian woman named Laura leads Johnny to Christ, and that brings a whole spiritual side to the story that you would not expect. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have the big finale with guns and blackouts, screaming and fainting, and twists to make the story more intriguing. This is one of my more popular Christian plays, and has been performed many times around the country in the past few years.
11 actors (6 male and 5 female) all adult or older teens. one hour long.
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
JOHNNY HOWLAND: Clearly the lead and largest part. Much of his lines are narration which should be recorded and played throughout the play in specific places. Johnny is a tough talking detective with a tough exterior in the ‘film noir’ fashion. He shows little emotion but goes thru a spiritual journey and gets saved, thus bringing about a change in his mannerisms at the end of the play, letting us see a little of the Johnny underneath the surface.
LAURA HAWKINS: A lovely young Christian woman who works as a bank teller. She has been helping her landlady with finances and finding out how her brother died. She’s very bold in talking with Johnny and in sharing the gospel. Large part.
VERONICA RIVERS: Your typical ‘film noir’ dame. She’s lovely and mysterious and vicious. She and her husband, Hanfield have concocted a plan to get insurance money, by faking his death and him changing his identity. She is not afraid to commit murder to keep her plan intact. Large part.
BETTY: Johnny’s secretary. Smart and helpful, she is a good assistant for him. Good size supporting part.
VIVIAN RIVERS: Laura’s landlady and Johnny’s client who believes that her brother, Hanfield, who recently died in a car accident, was actually murdered. She is emotionally unstable and believes that his wife, Veronica had something to do with it. Good size part.
SID: The gardener at the cemetery who also works for the Rivers’. He likes Johnny, but is caught up in this web of wrong doing. Medium sized part.
HANFIELD RIVERS: A.K.A: Mr. Hadley, A.K.A: Rooster; The man who is supposed to be dead, but he’s not. He changes his identity to Hadley and tries to purchase the café where his wife sings. His nickname, Rooster becomes a big clue in solving the case. Medium sized part.
WAITRESS: Character role as a ditzy, gum chewing gal (From someplace with a good accent to play off of)
Medium sized part
PETE, EDDIE AND BUZZ: Three young thugs hired by Veronica to get rid of Johnny. Medium sized parts.
The opening scene can be staged as a funeral with Johnny jumping out of the coffin, or video taped with more action using a longer narration. The longer narration is found at the end of the script. Scene changes should be easy if the stage is set for Johnny’s office then changing for the café scene at the end. If the funeral scene is staged, then that would be an extra scene change. Set pieces and costumes need to reflect the 40’s or early 50’s to get the ‘film noir’ look and feel. Use of dark lighting and shadows and light coming through a Venetian blind is effective along with a flashing neon sign outside the window. An old desk and a couch are needed for the office scene. Tables and chairs and a piano are needed for the café scene.
JOHNNY’S VOICE IS HEARD AS A NARRATOR: I got in my car and drove
straight to my office. The car felt like mine once I got it started
and I seemed to know where my office was. It was a warm night. I
had to roll down the windows. As I pulled up to my office building,
I could smell the familiar honeysuckle from up the street and the
garbage from the dumpster behind Harvey’s Deli of no return…down the
street. (He enters the room) Little by little stuff was coming
back to me. But I had no idea who that Joe was. He certainly knew
me. And for some reason, thought I shouldn’t go home. My hat was
here on the rack. Had I left it here? Why could I not remember
anything? I obviously had some kind of amnesia. And John Henry’s
hammer was tryin’ to out do that steam engine right inside my head.
I tried hard to recall any of the events of the past week. It was
all a blur. I must have been on to sumthin’ heavy from a case or
somethin’ from a case got heavy on me, and someone wanted me dead or
out of the way. But who? I had a lot of questions to find the
answers to, but I didn’t mind that. It was my job. That’s what I do.
I’m Johnny Howland, Private Eye. (Noir music plays)
My sleep was very restless as I began to dream. I was trapped inside
that coffin, and I could hear the dirt being dumped on me. Buried
alive! I began to bang on the lid. (Banging sound begins) Let me
out! Let me out! (Johnny wakes and sits up in a sudden manner…
grabbing his head.)
JOHNNY: (Say this line live during a pause in the tape but the tape
JOHNNY’S VOICE: The dream was over, man, that’s the story of my
life….but the banging did not stop. It took me a while to realize
that someone was banging on my door. I wondered who it could be. I
wondered if I would be able to recognize the person and if not,
would I be able to fake it and not let on that I had amnesia.
(Johnny slowly gets up and walks over to the door preparing himself
for anything as he answers.)
JOHNNY: (opens the door.) Yes?
VERONICA: Mr. Howland?
JOHNNY: Yes. Won’t you come in? (She gives him a double take as
she walks into the room. She has a 40’s hair style, dressed very
nicely, perhaps wearing a fur, with a dress going just below the
knees in fashion, and high heels.)
JOHNNY’S VOICE: That’s when she showed up. I can’t believe I forgot
her. A gal like that doesn’t make an entrance twice in your life,
but I was so macked up, she could be my sister for all I knew. ‘Cept
my sister looked like me, but ugly. (Pause) I hate being vulnerable
around women. But I had no choice in the matter. She seemed to
have recognized me. That bothered me, because I had never seen her
before in my life. But I couldn’t remember anything from the past
week anyway. Man, if she was a client, I’d really look like a muck
if I didn’t remember her! But I thought about the way she greeted me
just then. It seemed obvious that we had never met. At least, not
JOHNNY: What can I do for you? (He goes to his desk and sits down
opening drawers looking for something.)
VERONICA: Mr. Howland, I …. I…. I need your help. May I sit down?
JOHNNY: (Keeps on looking…saying nothing.)
VERONICA: (She sits on the couch, annoyed and crosses her legs.) I
don’t know where to begin. (She keeps looking at him to see if he
recognizes her, she wonders why he doesn’t seem to know her. She is
nervous but tries to hide it. She might do some little nervous
gestures, like scratching an itch, or playing with her gloves.)
JOHNNY: Why don’t you start at the beginning?
VERONICA: At the beginning? Well, okay. My husband is dead.
JOHNNY: Is that good or bad?
VERONICA: (She looks annoyed) I want you to find out who killed him.
JOHNNY: Are the police looking for someone?
VERONICA: The police report says it was an accident. They aren’t
going to do anything. That’s why I need you to find who did this.
JOHNNY: Tell me about your husband, Mrs… .
VERONICA: Veronica. Veronica Rivers. My husband was Hanfield
Rivers. (She looks at him expecting a reaction to the name)
JOHNNY: How old was your husband, Mrs. Rivers?
VERONICA: What does his age have to do with anything?
JOHNNY: I was thinking if he was 110, he might have died of old age.
Mystery over. Quick cash for me…
VERONICA: His car went off the road and into the river. He drowned.
It was in all the papers.
JOHNNY: (Acting like he remembers) Oh yeah…sure. I think I recall
that one. They did say it was an accident, didn’t they? I must
confess, it sure sounds like one. Why do you think it wasn’t?
VERONICA: My husband drove that road every day. Twice a day. I
can’t believe he would miss a curve. He is a very careful driver.
JOHNNY: Do you know any reason why anyone would want to do your
VERONICA: (She rises and walks away from him) Well, yes. I do.
JOHNNY: So, let’s hear it.
VERONICA: I don’t know how much I should tell you.
JOHNNY: If you want me to help you Mrs. Rivers, you have to tell me
everything. Hiding information only makes my job harder, and takes
me longer to solve the case, and in turn it costs you more dough.
VERONICA: Just how much money are we talking about?
JOHNNY: Sounds like it’s a murder investigation. That means my life
could be in danger. Yours will be. You could need protection. 50
bucks a day plus expenses.
VERONICA: Sounds fair. How long does it usually take you to solve a
JOHNNY: Well, that all depends.
VERONICA: Depends on what?
JOHNNY: For starters… how much information you are willing to give
me up front.
VERONICA: I see. And what will you do if you figure out who did it?
JOHNNY: I will turn all my information and the evidence over to the
police and let them take it from there. They can make the arrest.
VERONICA: And what do I get?
JOHNNY: (Becoming slightly disgusted at her questions) The
satisfaction of knowing that justice has been served, and the
murderer is behind bars…. That is if it really is a murder.
VERONICA: I know it is. That’s why I’m here.
JOHNNY: Then perhaps we should get started. You can begin by
telling me the names of all the people who did not like your husband.
VERONICA: All of them?
JOHNNY: Well…start at the top of the list. You know, the ones who
you think would hate him enough to want him dead.
VERONICA: I’m frightened, detective. You don’t know how hard this
JOHNNY: Believe me; it can’t be as hard as me trying to find out
who killed your husband without knowing anything. Mrs. Rivers, you
have to tell me what you know, or there isn’t any reason for you to
VERONICA: I’m not sure I’m going to hire you, yet.
JOHNNY: Go right ahead, you can try other private eyes, but they
will all want the same thing that I want: Information. We are not
mind readers. The more you tell me, the easier it will be for me
to find your killer, and the less you will have to pay.
VERONICA: The money is not a factor, Mr. Howland…
JOHNNY: It is to me. Look. I don’t know what kind of game you’re
playing here, Sister. But I have had just about …(He sees her
looking upset and stops)
VERONICA: (She starts to get emotional) I’m sorry.
JOHNNY: You alright?
VERONICA: I just…. (She acts faint)
JOHNNY: You better sit down again. (He helps her to the couch or
chair) I’ll get you a drink of water. (He crosses to the water
machine and has his back to her. She notices that and opens her
purse and reaches inside… obviously nervous and still thinking about
whether to pull out a gun. His back is still turned as he asks the
next question.) So, I’m gonna ask you again, is there any reason
you can think of why someone would want to kill your husband?
VERONICA: (She keeps the purse open, and starts to pull something
out but changes her mind, creating more mystery.) Yes… because he had
discovered the secret of the rooster.
JOHNNY: The rooster? (He turns to look at her then walks over with
the water. She closes her purse.)
VERONICA: I don’t think I should say anything else. I should never
have come. (She starts for the door.)
JOHNNY: Mrs. Rivers, why don’t you leave your telephone number,
where I can reach you? We can talk more about this.
VERONICA: I’m sorry Mr. Howland. (She hurries out the door.)
JOHNNY’S VOICE: (He closes the door and moves about the office as
the narration is going looking for clues and anything he can find to
jar his memory.) I had nothing. She left almost as fast as she
had come. I couldn’t get out of my head the strange way she greeted
me. I sensed that she had seen me somewhere. I didn’t know what it
was about her, but there was something. I couldn’t shake it.
Maybe it was just the fact that she was so mysterious and so lovely
all at the same time. She was clearly nervous and clearly hiding a
lot. When she mentioned how her husband died, it was all I could do
to keep from smiling when I realized that a man named Rivers met his
end in a river. I’m glad I kept my composure. Now that she had
gone, I needed to get to work. I began to look for any old papers
that I had not thrown away. I needed to read up on the latest news.
I also went through all my notes, to see what clients I may have
and not remember. (Phone rings) The phone call came at just the
right moment. I needed something to jolt my memory, and this was
the call that did it. I was nervous about picking it up, just like
opening the door. But I was getting desperate for answers.
JOHNNY: (Picks up phone) Hello… Oh, Hi Ma….Where was I? What do
you mean?…. Oh, that. No I didn’t come home, I just slept here on
my couch. You know, working late on a case…. Yeah, yer right. I
shoulda called…. Sorry to worry ya, Ma. I wasn’t thinking too
clearly last night. A headache and all. I think I’m coming down
with something. …. Yeah, I know. Maybe I’ll get some rest later….
Well, if you want to. That would be swell. Thanks Ma! (Hangs up)
Oh brother! I live with my mother! They didn’t hit me hard enough….
No, wait…(he remembers) she lives with me!
JOHNNY’S VOICE: This was just the ticket to give me some of my
memory back. I suddenly remembered that I had Mom come and live
with me after Dad died. She was a neat lady…always thinking about
me. I was glad she was sending over some chicken soup with Betty.
I couldn’t remember when I ate last, and I was feeling mighty hungry.
Also….I couldn’t remember who Betty was. (He picks up the paper
and sits on the couch to read it… and falls asleep again.)
“We did ‘Johnny Unforgettable’ and we are STILL hearing comments about how good it was. When it came time to look for another script for the next production, I fished around even deeper than last year, but couldn’t even come close to comparing the quality, selection, price and impactful-nes of your scripts…. and believe me I tried!”
Sean Major, First Presbyterian Church, Quincy, IL
Imagine a detective from the noir era falling on his knees to accept Christ! “Johnny Unforgettable” has it all: villains, thugs, mystery, suspense, and the plan of Salvation all wrapped into one! This was a joy to perform!
Kimberly Hagist Rolling, Harp’s Crossing Baptist Church, Fayetteville, GA