image 2 cast and set [Liz Lauren]
Set by Todd Rosenthal. Photo: Liz Lauren.
[Full article published in The Theatre Times, May 12, 2018.]


Consider the riddle of Neena Arndt’s work at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. She conducts research that informs designs but doesn’t design sets or costumes or soundscapes. She often appears on Goodman stages but is not an actor. Arndt is a dramaturg who researches playwrights, characters and their lives, relevant social and political events, and other themes for use by actors, designers, directors, and sometimes press offices. She might even have a hand in refining a play adaptation. She is part of the community that builds a theatrical world.

As a member of the Goodman Theatre literary department for nine years (the past two as Resident Dramaturg), Arndt reads scripts being considered for production, prepares background materials for design and production personnel, refines script translations, and conducts public pre- and post-show events. In our recent conversation inspired by her work on Robert Falls’ adaptation and staging of The Enemy Of The People that ran from March 10 through April 15, 2018, Arndt describes the many dimensions of her role in staging in this timely story about public works and public corruption.

These days she focuses most on production dramaturgy and audience engagement through program notes, post-show discussions, and pre-show talks. Topics for pre-show talks are tweaked for each production, factoring in what she feels would be useful while not giving the whole plot away.

“I often give background information about the playwright, how the play came to be written, where the play sits in the playwright’s oeuvre, the production process and certain choices. But I avoid spoilers because I assume people don’t how the play ends. I’ll usually try to give a little nugget, a secret.”

She performed all these roles in the Goodman’s new adaptation of Eleanor Marx’s 1888 translation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play The Enemy Of The People. In this new version, the roles of idealistic Doctor Stockman, his pregnant second wife Katherine, and his adult daughter Petra struggle with how best to serve their family and their community in the face of a water supply contamination that threatens the spa business that supports that town.


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