by Philip Middleton Williams
Dark Twist is a drama about coming to terms with the past. Set at an all-boys boarding school in New England – a school not only steeped in tradition, but also in illicit scandals and harrowing secrets – Richard Barlow and Jeff Arnold, former classmates and now teachers, meet in one of their old classrooms to reminisce. Enter Jim Robertson, the man who hired them both. Tensions intensify as the three begin a fierce dance culminating in a relentless series of revelations, each more startling than the last.
- Cast Size: 5M
- Running Time: 90+ minutes
- Royalty Rate: $75 per performance
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About the Playwright
Philip Middleton Williams has written over fifty plays ranging from one-minute to full-length. “A Moment of Clarity” and “A Life Enriching Community” were finalists in the City Theatre National Award for Short Playwriting. “All Together Now” won first place in the 2016 Playgroup playwriting contest and was produced as part of the Willow Theatre 2017-2018 season. “Can’t Live Without You” was his first play to receive a New York production at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre in January 2008, and was produced by The Playgroup for their 2018-2019 season at The Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida. Three monologues from this play are included in the anthology “The Best Men’s Monologues from New Plays 2019,” published by The Applause Acting Series.
His work has been seen in the South Florida One-Minute Play Festivals, the Midwest Dramatist Conference, the William Inge Theatre Festival New Play Labs, Bartell Theatre of Madison, Wisconsin, Odenbear Theatre of Taos, New Mexico, Theatre Roulette of Columbus, Ohio, the Short+Sweet Festival of Sydney, Australia, the Valdez Theatre Conference of Alaska, Vermont Pride Theater, Silver Tongued Stages of Miami, Seaside Players of Lauderdale by the Sea, Theatre Arts Productions of Palm Beach, Open Eye Theater of Margaretville, New York, and Bendigo Theatre Company of Bendigo, Victoria, Australia. He is the author of the novel “Bobby Cramer,” and has two other works in progress: “The Purer, Brighter Years” and “Small Town Boys.”
He has a B.F.A. in drama from the University of Miami, an M.F.A. in theatre from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and a PhD in playwriting and dramatic criticism from the University of Colorado. In 1992 he was appointed to the national advisory board of the William Inge Theatre Festival. He has written numerous articles on the works of William Inge and Lanford Wilson and contributed to “The Facts on File Companion to American Drama,” edited by Jackson R. Bryer and Mary C. Hartig. His doctoral thesis, “A Comfortable House – Lanford Wilson, Marshall W. Mason and the Circle Repertory Theatre,” was published by McFarland and Company in 1993. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild.
Goddamn, high school was a horrible experience for Richard and Jeff, and the memories are imbedded deep into their psyches. Williams not only touches on their lingering wounds, he digs at them, tearing open long hardened-over scabs with force. An exorcism of a sort, Williams displays a darker world view than usual in this work; whatever Richard and Jeff may have learned from confronting their memories, he leaves no doubt the cycle will continue, and it is vicious.
Dark Twist is a wholly compelling piece of drama. Williams presents us with two very complicated men (Jeff & Richard) who have accepted teaching positions at a New England prep school that they attended years ago, a prep school steeped not only in tradition, but also in illicit scandals & harrowing secrets. Enter a third also very complicated man (Jim) who hired them both. A fast and fierce dance between the three, a nonstop series of revelations, each more startling than the last. And oh, what Williams has the characters do with a desk is pure brilliance. Stage this!
From the opening stage directions of DARK TWIST, Philip Middleton Williams transports you to a prep school world that feels incredibly real and textured. The memories that the characters both share and suppress are woven into the setting itself, with dilapidated desks and classrooms becoming metaphors for all the trauma within. Navigating through the lives of these dynamic characters is fascinating and the revelations about bullying and abuse are explored with such great perspective through different lenses of sexuality and status.
Many of Williams’s candid plays involve memory and reconciliation. DARK TWIST explores these themes through the eyes of two former prep school boys, now men, who outwardly reject the past while clinging to it emotionally. Rich in symbolism and subtext, the story unfolds through scenes involving calculated role playing that underscore how we are all playing one calculated role or another in our day to day lives. A penetrating and thought-provoking play.
I loved the way Williams explored boarding school cultural here through many different lenses. He managed to examine both the positive and toxic elements of such communities in an even-handed manner. As someone who taught in a boarding school for a long time, I appreciated the nuanced look at the varied ways identity forms and is shaped in those environments, and the immediate and long term impacts of the traditional structures and systems that such places cultivate and perpetuate. Each character was multi-dimensional and interesting, and the potent story is told in a compact and elegant structure.
Philip Middleton Williams has written a compelling play. Two former students and friends return to the boarding school at which they were students twenty years later as teachers. Each has a past to tell and both find out more than they realized or understood about each other, themselves, and the boarding school. “Dark Twist” is a brand of tobacco smoke, but it is also a metaphor for the sameness, unchanging, traditional ways of the school, its faculty, and students. You can smell the aroma and remember it from days good by. Tradition, habits, old desks – can they change? BRAVO!
This play packs a punch! Dark Twist refers to the pipe tobacco smoked by the dean of faculty at St. Edmund’s School, but more to the point, Philip Middleton Williams has given us a tale about the dark twisted experience of Jeff and Richard, two alumni returning to the schools after 20 years to teach. The tradition, the hazing, the agony of their high school experience – I felt it all as Jeff and Richard reconnected, shared their memories, and, in surprising fashion, confront the dean. Bravo!
Williams blasts open old wounds sustained decades ago by prep school students who have returned to teach at the school they both attended. The result is a quick-footed, compelling drama that does not pull punches, but does hold secrets, including repressed memories that, when they surface, threaten the tenuous balance each character has worked for years to maintain. Highly recommended.
At an all-boys boarding school, the weak, the different, the perceived gay became targets. Jeff survived by finding a protector, staying stoned, and pretending not to be who he was. Richard broke under the bullying and lives with PTSD-like nightmares. Now both have returned to the school to teach. But why? To exorcise their demons or to embrace them? They seek to answer that question in this gripping and engaging drama of memory and survival. Audiences need to see this play.
A play about how what happens to us when we’re young shapes our lives – both for good and for bad – Dark Twist will take you back to how it felt to be a teenager, trying to figure out who you are, what the world is, and how best to survive within it. It’s a wonderful drama full of twists, surprises, and haunting memories. Philip Middleton Williams knocks it out of the park.
This was an exceptional show. I truly enjoyed these smart characters dealing with their pasts in healthy and unhealthy ways. I found myself switching sides with each as they told their stories and excited to see what each next “dark twist” would be. Their baggageand drama is real and relatable and the lengths they go to deal with them hits home. I left hoping Jeff and Richard had closure, as well as the opportunity for a new chapter.
DARK TWIST explores how the trauma of one’s past stays with a person with such unrelenting clarity and focus, and it brilliantly dramatizes the sharp pull that causes some adults to return to the scene of that trauma years later to confront the demons head on. Richard and Jeff deal with their own evolving identities and complicated relationship that was forged in boarding school. The play is almost an exorcism of sorts, with surprising discoveries about ritualistic cruelties and misunderstandings. Wonderfully structured with richly compelling dialogue and action.
The road to prep school is paved with good intentions. The road from it is often traveled as quickly as possible. DARK TWIST navigates the bonding and brutalities, rituals and regrets, of that experience as only the work of an insider can.
Dark Twist gave me access to a world I know little about, and kept me engaged from start to finish. The layers of underbelly of the boarding school experience are slowly and insightfully revealed. Beautifully defined characters who can turn on a dime played with my allegiance and left me with the question: Do we ever truly rid ourselves of the demons of our past? This brilliant drama needs to be staged.
This effectively atmospheric piece convincingly evokes the world of the traditional New England prep school: a fascinating subculture most of us have never experienced. Complex characters, literate dialogue, and concealed motivations keep the audience engaged and guessing. The view of the past is bleak, but the ending offers some welcome hope for the future.
Review Dark Twist.