OAKLAND -- John McMullen is a man with a mission -- bringing professional repertory theater to Piedmont Avenue.

As someone with theater in his heart and blood, the quest for the ideal location for Piedmont Oakland Repertory Theatre was well worth the effort and cost. That effort has paid off, and McMullen is now actively spreading the word that Capoeira Mandinga at 4137 Piedmont Ave. has generously offered space on weekend evenings for performances.

This will be the third location for the repertory theater in nine months, and McMullen is already planning how to use this temporary home to its fullest advantage, concentrating on the selection of plays and the actors as his selling points.

"It's still going to be a theater of the imagination; we named ourselves Piedmont Oakland Repertory Theatre, PORT, because we know we're going to have to be portable," said McMullen, the performing director.

Piedmont Oakland Rep plans to inaugurate the space with a staged reading of David Mamet's Tony-nominated play "Speed-the-Plow" with two performances Sunday and to continue to hold stage readings throughout the summer before launching a full production, hopefully, in September. Once established, the company would like to present three to four productions from June through September.

"We want to keep a light in the window and let everybody know that we're alive and well and that we will be performing there," he said.


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Mamet, heralded as one of the best playwrights and screenwriters of his generation, uses "Speed-the-Plow" to offer cutting insight into the avarices, ambitions and souls of the people who greenlight the movies, letting the audience in on how those decisions are made, based on human weakness and hubris. Mamet's skill is his ability to capture the way people from all walks of life speak, be they con artists, moguls, thieves or English barristers.

McMullen described his role as producing director as one that tries to match his inventory of potential plays with his actors.

"I think about who would be good in the parts and who is available, so I match those things together and hit the jackpot this time," he said.

"Speed-the-Plow" will feature John Hale, who starred and received rave reviews in the theater group's first two productions, "The Dining Room" and "Other People's Money." The other two characters will be played by Matt Lai, who recently starred in Impact Theatre's "Mutt" and Hilary Hesse, who recently played in "Sweet Bird of Youth" at San Francisco's Tides Theater.

McMullen is banking on the enthusiasm that he received from merchants nine months ago when his idea for a repertory theater in the Piedmont area first got off the ground, and he believes that audience numbers will increase with the theater's move back to Piedmont Avenue, especially if he can keep tickets prices down.

"So many of the merchants were overwhelmingly enthusiastic," McMullen said. "I think it's going to make all the difference in the world being centrally located on Piedmont Avenue."

In teaching theater for 15 years, McMullen would tell his students that theater is a wonderful artistic outlet, one that provides a built-in community, but that trying to make a living out of acting is very hard.

"I tell them this: 'If you can do anything else and be happy, do it,' " he said. "I can't; theater makes me joyous."

This explains why he continues to pour his efforts and money into providing Piedmont Avenue with professional theater, wanting to move people emotionally with the plays he selects and to make them think.

"On this wonderful avenue that has bookstores and coffee houses and a very special cinema and all these shops, we are bringing live performing arts right into the middle of it," he said. "If you like it, come and see it because that's the way it stays."

FYI
What: Piedmont Oakland Repertory Theatre's production of David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow"
When: 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Capoeira Mandinga, 4137 Piedmont Ave.
Tickets: $12 advance and $15 at the door
Information: www.piedmontoaklandrep.org or Brown Paper Ticket at 800-838-3006; only 40 seats per performance