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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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How to watch and understand NJT’s performance of Arthur Miller’s ‘All My Sons’

Jon Gitchoff
L to R: Kristen Joy Lintvedt as Ann, Greg Johnston as Joe, Jayson Heil as Chris, and Amy Loui as Kate

In August 1978, I vividly remember being told to “dress up, shut up and smile” as I was dragged to see “Damn Yankees” at the Muny. It was hot and I hated it. Years later I learned to regret my hostility that night for two reasons. First, Vincent Price was actually on stage, and second, I learned that understanding a show and its story ahead of time makes any live musical theater or play so much more delightful.

How to watch _______.

So today, as the New Jewish Theatre opens its 26th season with the Tony Award-winning play “All My Sons” by Arthur Miller at the Wool Studio Theatre, I wanted to try something new. I sat down with NJT’s Artistic Director Rebekah Scallet to create a new kind of show preview or primer about “how to watch.” The following is written so as not to give any spoilers away, but to give you a solid base of information that hopefully allows you to follow the storytelling and action more closely, thus making the show more enjoyable.

How to watch ‘All My Sons’

Plot overview:

The play revolves around the Keller family’s secrets and lies, particularly concerning Joe’s involvement in selling defective airplane parts to the military during the war. As tensions rise and long-buried truths come to light, the family is torn apart by guilt, betrayal, and the quest for justice.

Basic character analysis:

  • Joe Keller: The patriarch of the Keller family, Joe is a successful businessman whose actions during the war have tragic consequences for his family and others.
  • Kate Keller: Joe’s wife, Kate, is haunted by the loss of their son Larry during the war and struggles to accept his death, leading to conflicts within the family.
  • Chris Keller: The son of Joe and Kate, Chris is a war veteran who returns home with idealistic aspirations but is forced to confront uncomfortable truths about his family’s past.

Historical context of the play:

“All My Sons” is set in the aftermath of World War II, a period marked by significant social and economic changes in America. The play reflects the disillusionment and moral complexities faced by individuals and families in the post-war era, as they grapple with the consequences of their actions during the war and the challenges of rebuilding their lives.


  • Moral Responsibility: The central argument of the play is that if you do a bad thing that harms others, but your reasons for doing it are righteous (in this case, protecting and supporting your family) is it still wrong?
  • Family and Loyalty: In the play, we see two differing examples of family loyalty in the Deever and Keller families.  We watch as the characters navigate conflicting loyalties and confront the consequences of past actions on their relationships.
  • Guilt and redemption: Guilt over past mistakes and the quest for redemption play a significant role in the characters’ psychological struggles. When the truth comes out, the veil is removed, and they are forced to deal with their cold hard reality.

Symbolism to watch for:

  • When audiences arrive at the theater, they will immediately notice a fallen apple tree in the Keller’s backyard. The night before the action of the play begins, the wind blew it down, and that broken apple tree and its stump remain on stage throughout the performance.

The set:

The “All My Sons” set is designed with the back of the Keller’s house set against one wall of the theater, and their backyard in the central playing area, surrounded on three sides by the audience.  This allows the audience to feel like they are also neighbors to the Kellers, hanging out on a summer’s day in their backyard, soaking up all the neighborhood gossip.

Arthur Miller backstory:

Miller was unable to serve in the military during WWII due to a high school football injury but was greatly impacted by it.

He exchanged detailed letters with his older brother, Kermit, who was serving as a pilot and he was hired to interview veterans in hospitals and turn their stories into patriotic radio plays, something he found difficult considering how heart-wrenching and dark the stories were.

Miller’s compassion and admiration for the veteran experience is clearly on display in this play.  Chris speaks of the bonds he had with his fellow soldiers and his dismay at returning home to the capitalist reality of America in an eloquent way that seems much ahead of its time.

“All My Sons”

When: March 21-April 7. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Wool Theatre 2 Millstone Campus Dr.
More info: All tickets can be purchased online

Veterans’ Community Project Audience Discussion

Sunday, March 24 at 2pm

In line with the difficult themes of war and readjustment to civilian life, the New Jewish Theatre has decided to partner with the Veteran’s Community Project for an exclusive post-show discussion following the March 24 matinee show.

After the curtain closes, audience members will have the chance to learn about the work they are doing to provide high-quality and well-developed strategic services that enable Veterans to meet the challenges of day-to-day living, resolve immediate crises, and move towards permanent stability.

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About the Contributor
Jordan Palmer
Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer
Jordan worked at KSDK from 1995 to 2020. Jordan is a three-time Emmy award winner who produced every kind of show from news to specials during his tenure, creating Show Me St. Louis, The Cardinal Nation Show. He started ksdk.com in 2001 and won three Edward R. Murrow Awards for journalistic and website excellence in 2010, 2014 and 2020. Jordan has been married for 25 years and is the father of two college students. He is an avid biker, snowboarder, and beer lover. He created the blog drink314.com, focusing on the St. Louis beer community in 2015. Jordan has an incredible and vast knowledge of useless information and is the grandson of a Cleveland bootlegger.