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The Ghost / Theatre

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  • Waiting for Godot; It's not a spoiler to say that he never shows up.
    • The first exchange of words in the play imply that Gogo has slept in a ditch during the night, and Didi asks if "they" beat him. "Of course they did" is the answer. Who or what "they" are is never explained or elaborated further. They also never show up.
  • For The Glass Menagerie, Tom and Laura's father is frequently mentioned, but never seen. His absence, in fact, leaves a greater impact on all their lives than his presence likely would have.
  • Older Than Steam: William Shakespeare does these all the time.
    • In the beginning of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo spends his time indulging in Wangst over his former flame Rosaline. She never appears in the play, and Romeo quickly turns his sights on Juliet. Mercutio's brother Valentine is included with Mercutio in the invitation to the Capulet ball, but never appears or gets a second mention.
    • In The Tempest, the witch Sycorax is the island's original owner. She is mentioned many times throughout the play, but has died before the play begins.
    • In Act I Scene III of Othello, two characters are mentioned as though significant, but never introduced or mentioned again (this has naturally baffled many scholars). The characters' names are "Signior Angelo" and "Marcus Luccios."
    • Princess Elizabeth of York in Richard III.
    • The infant Princess Elizabeth in Henry VIII.
    • In A Midsummer Night's Dream the changeling boy, who causes the conflict between Titania and Oberon in the first place, never even appears on stage in the script. Some productions do have him appear, but obviously he doesn't get any lines.
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    • An unusual example in Much Ado About Nothing: Innogen, Hero's mother, is mentioned twice in the stage directions when listing the characters who enter a scene, but never speaks and is never spoken of in the play itself. The film adaptation removed her entirely.
  • None of the husbands ever appear in Clare Boothe's play The Women or its black and white film adaptation (which had the Tag Line "It's all about the men!").
  • Lisa in Wait Until Dark.
  • George Washington in 1776. His 'presence' is limited to the letters he sends that Secretary Thomson reads aloud.
  • Matthew Shepard in The Laramie Project, as the play is all about the aftermath of his murder.
  • Mr. Stroheim in Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs.
  • Babe's husband Zachary in Crimes of the Heart.
  • Mary and the late Old Man Meeks from The Foreigner both qualify.
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  • The unseen Mrs. Grundy, in Thomas Morton's Speed the Plough (1798), in which Dame Ashfield continually worries, "What will Mrs. Grundy say?" of each development. Since then, the term "Mrs. Grundy" has passed into everyday speech as the embodiment of prudery and censorship.
  • Arcadia has a bunch, the most prominent of which are Lord Byron and Mrs. Chater. There are several other characters who are mentioned repeatedly but never appear; this is somewhat inevitable given that the play takes place in a single room.
  • The title character of the opera The Consul, who appears only as a distant, inaudible shadow. As with Godot, the protagonist waits for him in vain.
  • God in Jesus Christ Superstar, although He is addressed - indeed, harangued - by Jesus in the scene at Gethsemane.
  • In the one-woman show Tell Me on a Sunday, none of the people the heroine interacts with (most notably her boyfriends) ever appear on stage. At the most, some productions might use photos to depict them - but this is done rarely.
  • The person(s) operating the eponymous device and sending bizarre messages in Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter. It may be Wilson, the unseen superior of protagonists Gus and Ben, but this is never made clear.
  • This is the main joke of Tom Jacobsen's Bunbury: A Serious Play for Trivial People. It features— you guessed it!— Wilde's Bunbury and Shakespeare's Rosaline teaming up and roaming through the Western canon meeting or becoming other Ghosts or imagined characters and changing ends as they go. Romeo and Juliet gets a happy ending; we meet Blanche DuBois's dead husband, Martha's blond-eyed blue-haired son, and a whole slew of unseen characters from Three Sisters; and Bunbury himself becomes or is mistaken for Godot.
  • Cyrano de Bergerac: Act I Scene III: Cardenal Richelieu, the most powerful man in France arrives to the Burgundy Theater to a box with the bars in front… or at least the public (in the play) murmurs it so, because he is never shown. Anyway, the simple rumor of his presence is enough to command respect from the public, impose silence, and even makes the Pages behave. He will be mentioned again at Act IV, but never seen.
  • Ted, Joanne's husband in Vanities, whom she finds out has been cheating.
  • Father Reilly in The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge. Characters worry about how he will react to events, and relay conversations they've had with him since they last appeared onstage, but he himself is never seen.
  • In The Moon is Blue, Cynthia, David's Southern Belle daughter and Don's ex-girlfriend, never appears onstage, nor is her voice heard when she phones him; she does appear in the film version. Vicki, Patty's slightly older roommate, appears in neither play nor film.
  • Lots of characters in Betrayal, since only three real characters actually appear onstage. The most important are Jerry's wife Judith, Emma's lover Casey, and all the children of the main couples.
  • In Bell Book And Candle, Mrs. de Pass and Merle Kittredge are characters who figure in the plot but only appear in the film version.
  • Pokémon Live! has Ash's father and Professor Xalrons; both are mentioned but never seen.
  • French play L'Arlésienne by Alphonse Daudet (adapted from one short story Letters From My Windmill). Young man named Frederic falls in love in the titular girl from Arles who never appears nor do we learn her name. He finds out that she has been unfaithful and decides to renonce the wedding. To please his parents, he tries to act happy and marries another girl but after a while unable to forget his first love, he kills himself by jumping off a balcony. In french "Arlésienne" is also the Trope Namer.
  • The plot of Miss Julie revolves around the titular character's father, who is never seen but whose boots and gloves are on stage throughout the play.
  • In Follies, Margie, Buddy's mistress, isn't invited to the reunion, but that doesn't stop Buddy from make-believe dancing with her in "The Right Girl." A ditz addressed as "Margie" does appear in "Buddy's Blues," but so does one named "Sally" who isn't played by the actual character.
  • In The Green Pastures, Jesus doesn't appear, but is sighted offstage in the final scene carrying a cross up a hill.
  • In That Championship Season, the annual reunion of the Fillmore High 1952 Pennsylvania state basketball champions only includes four of the five winning players and their coach. The fifth player, the star of the team, is conspicuous by his absence; the reason, revealed near the end of the play, emphasises how rotten the foundation of overreliance on the coach's advice upon which the other players have built their lives really is.
  • Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas include several of these. For example, The Grand Duke has the awesome offstage character of Grand Duke Rudolph's private detective. When the regicidal theatrical conspirators accidentally confiding their plot to their opponent's own detective, the detective was so overtaken with laughter that he doubled over in hysterics, and wasn't able to arrest the conspirator.
    "This comes of engaging a detective with a keen sense of the ridiculous! For the future I'll employ none but Scotchmen."
  • In Larry Gelbart's Mastergate: A Play on Words, the hearing's stated purpose is to find out "What did the President know, and does he have any idea that he knew it?" The President is constantly being referred to in the testimony of various government figures, but never makes an appearance himself.
  • She Loves Me has Paul, the optometrist Miss Ritter falls for. She, Arpad and Sipos catch sight of him at the shop window on Christmas Eve, though he never actually appears on the scene. However, the original production did cast an actor as Paul (last in order of appearance on the cast list).
  • Every character in Shirley Valentine except Shirley herself, since it's a one-woman show.
  • In Hamilton, there's two significant founding fathers missing from it:
    • Benjamin Franklin, which was a deliberate move on Lin-Manuel Miranda's part: he had intended to have a song for Franklin, but found that the Large Ham Franklin would have taken over the musical, so chose to cut him.
    • John Adams, despite having a song named for his presidency. Miranda stated in an interview he figured everyone would have just pictured Adams as played by William Daniels in 1776 anyway, so he could get away with making Adams The Ghost.
  • In RENT:
    • We never see or hear Benny's wife, Alison "Muffy" Grey, even though she's referenced several times, spoken to on the phone, and her father is seen in Life Cafe with Benny during "La Vie Boheme".
    • Maureen spends the majority of Act I as The Ghost; talked about often but never seen (save a 10-second cameo as The Faceless in the musical's titular number), until she makes her Big Entrance at the end of "Christmas Bells". Averted in the film, when she makes an appearance during "Tango Maureen".
  • General La Marque of Les Misérables is never seen on-stage, only mentioned (primarily by Enjolras), even though his death is what propels the June Rebellion plot following the second time skip. He is similarly not seen in the 2012 film, but his funeral procession becomes the main rallying point for the revolutionaries, and his hearse the base for one of the barricades (but not the one most of the second act's action centers around).
  • Boston Marriage revolves around best friends Anna and Claire, and the stresses put on their relationship when Anna gets a sugar daddy and Claire gets a girlfriend. Their respective paramours influence the plot but never appear onstage. Claire's girlfriend at one point makes it to the next room, where Anna can be heard welcoming her, but she doesn't come into the room in which the play takes place, and her response to the welcome is inaudible.
  • Summer of the Seventeenth Doll revolves around four friends, Olive, Nancy, Barney, and Roo. Nancy never appears, and her absence overshadows the events to the point that she's effectively a Posthumous Character, except that instead of dying she got married.
  • Rostoff, the coach of Hawthorn, is discussed a lot in The Club but never appears.
  • Westeros: An American Musical: Is an amateur parody of A Song of Ice and Fire, which is notorious for having Loads and Loads of Characters. This results in several chraracters getting demoted to being mentioned but never seen, so many in fact that it gets pointed out for some of them:
    • The raven serving as the narrator first thinks she misread her cue card when she narrates about Ned Stark travelling to King's Landing with two daughters, due to only Sansa actually appearing in the play and Arya getting relegated to a few mentions.
    • During "I'll Be Back", Daenerys asks the audience to not ask her where Viserys is. It can easily be read as a nod both to Viserys being dead by that point and to the fact that Daenerys is the only Essos-located character seen in the play.
    • When Stannis burns the leeches to curse Joffrey, Balon and Robb, the fire's response to Balon's leech being thrown in is Balon's voice complaining about not being in the play.
    • Near the end of "Stark to Finish", the Red Wedding gets interrupted due to Catelyn getting baffled by Jaime's physical absence from the play. Robb points out the fact that Jaime's capture by the Starks was mentioned earlier in the play ("Hand of the King" and "Robb Stark"). To top things off, the early part of "Stark to Finish" itself alludes to Catelyn releasing Jaime.
  • The Mrs. Hawking series:
    • For a long time it seemed like the Colonel was, since he is mentioned in every show but never seen onstage except in the flashback sections of part IV: Gilded Cages.
    • Interestingly, even though Nathaniel’s father Ambrose Hawking never appears, he is actually mentioned in every installment except part V: Mrs. Frost.
    • Dawson Frost, Mrs. Frost’s husband, is spoken of but never seen in both Gilded Cages and Mrs. Frost.

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