Two of the most famous examples are Lefty of Clifford Odets' Waiting for Lefty and Godot of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. In Odets' play, Lefty never shows up at a taxi strike meeting because he has been killed. Why Godot never shows up in Beckett's play has puzzled critics and audiences since the play's beginnings. Bert Lahr, who gave a memorable performance as Estragon in the 1956 Broadway production, confessed that he really didn't understand what the play was about. Some critics think that Godot is supposed to represent God, and that's why He doesn't show up.
The famous author of To the Lighthouse never appars in Edward Albee's most celebrated play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Instead, the title refers to a recurring joke in the drama, in which one of the charcters repeatedly chants "who's afraid of Virginia Woolf" to the tune of "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"
Although Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca was a hugely successful novel and movie, its 1945 Broadway production failed to excite theatregoers. The cast included Diana Barrymore, Bramwell Fletcher and Florence Reed, but nothing could erase the memory of Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier and Judith Anderson in the Alfred Hitchcock-directed classic film, and the play closed quickly. The title character, the late first wife of Fletcher's character, never appears but does exert an eerie influence on the characters who have survived her.
Susan and God, the popular 1937 comedy by Rachel Crothers, was the first Broadway play to be televised. It was shown at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. Susan, brilliantly played by Gertrude Lawrence, was onstage throughout the play, but God never appeared.
Edward, My Son, a 1948 play by Noel Langley and Robert Morley, starred Mr. Morley as a corrupt father who indulges his son's taste for outlandish luxuries. Edward, his son, never appears in the play, which was a hit on Broadway and made into a successful movie starring Spencer Tracy and Deborah Kerr. Mary Chase wrote two plays with absent leading characters. Bernadine was a fanciful 1952 comedy about a gang of teenage boys who fantasize about the girl of their dreams, whom they name Bernadine - but who never materializes.
Chase's most famous work is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvey. Harvey is an invisible, six-foot-tall rabbit seen only by an alcoholic named Elwood P. Dowd. Elwood's sister tries to have him committed to a mental institution, but when a cab driver warns her that patients are happy people when he takes them there and dreadful people when he drives them home, she changes her mind. Happily, at the play's end, she too begins to see Harvey.
During its initial Broadway run, the invisible rabbit even took a whimsical curtain call. A door on stage right opened, the audience imagined the rabbit crossing the stage and exiting through another door stage left, which closed behind him.