Darrington’s play gets off to a shaky but lively start

Tim Monte Calvo stands at the beat-up piano, shuffling through pages of music he composed.

He settles on “The Timeline Chorus,” a scene-setting refrain. He hunches over, works it out on the keys, then leads the vocals:

“In this corner of the world … On this land, on this land.”

“Wait for the two,” he says, counting beats. Those trying out for Darrington’s play sing with him:

“Mountains, cedars, rivers all around

” On this land, on this land

“And it’s springtime, a long, long time ago.”

Playwright Will Weigler wants to hear the individual voices. It’s obvious some are too shy to sing. Weigler’s looking for courage more than for singing ability. He puts 15-year-old Paden Newberry on the spot.

Paden tries, but it’s barely more than a mumble. “Thank you. Thank you, that was lovely,” Weigler says. Others take their turn.

Jessica Ward, 12, says she has a song. “I don’t want to sing it,” she adds. Weigler tries coaxing the song out of her. Paden breaks the standoff. He announces, “I’ll sing a song for you,” and delivers an assertive rendition of “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World.”

“All right!” Weigler booms.

It’s the starting that’s the hard part.

*

You might think a fella would get rattled by such a shaky start, but you wouldn’t know it looking at Weigler.

Here he had spent six months of his life living off his savings in a shack in Darrington. He sponged up the culture, fascinated by the Tarheel loggers and the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe.

They didn’t always get along, but to Weigler they seemed to have a bunch in common. So he wrote a play called “Common Wealth” to help them tell their stories.

An early scene shows young Nels Bruseth in 1898. A frontier Renaissance man, Bruseth was renowned as a woodsman and artist. A Darrington boy, he grew up speaking Norwegian at home, English at school and Lushootseed with his young Sauk-Suiattle friends.

Jake Lovell, 11, another Darrington boy, is playing Bruseth. Weigler’s script requires him to speak Norwegian, English and Lushootseed.

“You may not have to do much of a Norwegian accent,” Weigler says, “Har dee var dee her – that’s the Flintstones version.”

Jake shows a knack for the more understated twang.

Lora Pennington joins the rehearsal in the tribe’s longhouse. Pennington, of the Upper Skagit Tribe, and Katherine Joseph, the Sauk-Suiattle’s eldest member, translated the Lushootseed parts of Weigler’s script.

Pennington works with Jake; with Forrest Thompson, 9, who plays one of Bruseth’s young white friends; and with David Harris, 13, a Sauk-Suiattle Tribe member who plays one of Bruseth’s Indian friends.

“Lushootseed isn’t as hard as you think it is,” she says to the boys. “It’s like hacking a goober in your throat.

“You’ll spit. You’ll clear your throat. You just say, ‘Excuse me.’”

*

There’s still much to do, lines to run and songs to learn. People can’t always make rehearsals. There’s the first day for razor clams, spring break, the trout opener, Little League and Mother’s Day.

Weigler can’t rest between rehearsals. He needs salmon heads, an electrician, stumps, a tent, a stage, umbrellas, the big finale, Christmas lights, some sleep, perhaps a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, definitely plywood, ladders and a main character or two.

And he really needs a Harold Engles.

He tracks down a drama club trunk at the high school rumored to have lights.

“I feel like Geraldo Rivera,” he jokes.

High school fixture Beryl Mauldin unlocks the trunk: Inside are several Fresnel lights.

He sweet-talks the senior center quilters into sewing costumes meant to resemble strips of cedar bark.

With three weeks to go, the play seems to turn a corner during song rehearsals at Darrington United Methodist Church. A group of men and teenage boys playing loggers stands in a tight oval near the piano. A few bars of “The Timber Bowl Song,” and the room jumps to life.

The men catch the song’s wild-blue-yonder spirit – corny, yet confident. Many can’t seem to help but close a fist and sweep it forward as they sing, rat-a-tat, of chokers, fallers, buckers, whistle punks and loaders.

No voice booms more than Merle McCaulley’s bass, which might even call a Sasquatch home for dinner.

One night an elderly couple walk into the church. The men sing:

“Then the buckers come along and make logs out of the trees.

“The choker men wrap the riggin’ around ‘em by twos and by threes …”

Weigler introduces the guests: Earl and Laverne Hayter.

It turns out that Earl Hayter, 86, who wrote the song, is still alive. People in town had lost track of him after he moved to Edmonds years before.

Merle McCaulley is eager to talk to Hayter. He tells him that he worked as a choker setter with his brother, Charlton Hayter.

“I would’ve known you were Charlton’s brother,” McCaulley says. “There wouldn’t have been a doubt.”

Charlton Hayter helped change his life. “Actually, that boy led me to the Lord,” McCaulley said. “It’s true.”

It seems things are coming together.

Except for Harold Engles. You can’t have a play about Darrington without its late, legendary Forest Service ranger and climber.

Weigler has Engles’ voice on tape, his exact words. He even has the ranger’s favorite hat and coat. It’s everything an actor needs.

Now he just needs a Harold Engles to show up before showtime.

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