Photo by Don Nelson
Four Seattle University students are filling vital roles in The Merc Playhouse production of Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound.” Back, from left, Hannah Mathews, Elaine Ortiz; front, from left, Josh Swaby, Brennan Bunn. To learn the identity of the corpse, you’ll have to see the play.

By Matthew Taylor

Four Seattle University students are interning at The Merc Playhouse in Twisp this summer. They are helping to design, manage and perform “The Real Inspector Hound,” a comedy by noted playwright Tom Stoppard that opens on July 27.

The students are engaged in a wide variety of roles related to the preparation for the play. Brennan Bunn and Josh Swaby will be playing theater critics named Birdboot and Moon; Elaine Ortiz will be the costume designer; and Hannah Mathews will be the assistant costume designer and stage manager.

The internship program, directed by Seattle University professor and part-time valley resident Ki Gottberg, has been bringing Seattle University students to perform at The Merc for the past four summers. Gottberg is also The Merc’s artistic director, and is directing “The Real Inspector Hound.”

The students get to experience theater in a small community, while bringing their talents to the annual productions.

“In the absence of professionals, we have community,” said Ortiz, a senior from Sacramento, California. Praising the eagerness of valley residents to contribute, she said, “Twisp is such a small town, everybody just wants to help each other.”

Mathews, a junior from Portland, Oregon, also commented on the tight­knit community, noting that “Everybody knows each other and is friendly.”

Swaby, a senior from Spearfish, South Dakota, remarked on the peace provided by the valley. “The Methow is quiet,” he said, calling his time here “relaxing.” Bunn, a junior from San Diego, said, “Coming from Seattle, it’s a nice, huge change of pace.”

The students credited a wide variety of reasons for their love of theater. “I was drawn to the idea that you get to tell amazing stories on stage,” said Ortiz. “You get to explore all aspects of the human condition.” Mathews spoke about how she felt welcomed in theater: “Everyone is just a really big community.”

In addition to the summer internships, Gottberg brings one Seattle University production to The Merc every year. In the past, The Merc has seen Seattle University students perform plays such as Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” “Euripides,” “The Trojan Women,” William Inge’s “Picnic” and “The Imaginary Invalid.” These productions get people in small communities interested in and exposed to high-quality theatre, as well as giving students the chance to tour with a play, said Gottberg.

Seattle University students will be performing Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and her Children” on Dec. 3 at The Merc, considered by many to be the greatest play of the 20th century.

“The Real Inspector Hound” opens on Thursday, July 27, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 6. Performances on Wednesdays through Saturdays will be at 7 p.m., while Sunday performances will be at 2 p.m. Youth tickets are $5­ – $7, and adult tickets are $16­ – $18. Visit www.mercplayhouse.org for more information. The play is a spoof on the Agatha Christie style of parlor murder mysteries, satirizing that genre and the pomposity of theater critics along the way.