ALAMEDA -- Longtime Alameda resident Rachel LePell is spending her summer vacation exploring the world of gambling as she readies her latest play for an August performance in Alameda. Adapted from her book of the same name, her one-woman show "Playing My Hand" deals with playing cards -- poker, in particular.
"It's sort of a wild ride through some sensitive material as I explore gambling and pose the questions: 'What is God?' 'What is luck?' and 'What is addition?'" she said. "There's a lot of humor, but it also has a heavy side."
LePell had the opportunity to perform a 20-minute excerpt from the play this past Monday at The Marsh Theatre, 1062 Valencia St., in San Francisco. She will repeat the performance at 7:30 p.m. next Monday, also at The Marsh.
"The Marsh is really committed to nourishing solo performances. I pretty much did the first 20 minutes of the show. Hopefully, it will be picked up for a full production," LePell said. "But, my main goal this summer is to see how the piece works and what might need changing."
LePell has been working on a 50-minute presentation for Aug. 10-11 at Alameda Autobody Fine Art Gallery, 1517 Park St. Both shows begin at 7:30 p.m.
"Admission is $5 or $10 -- basically a pay-what-you-can," LePell said. "The piece will have an intermission and, hopefully, a guitarist, but it will still be very minimalist. The set is one chair that I use for many things and a few props. Very simple."
Although LePell is used to reading her poetry and prose to audiences, the prospect of doing a one-woman show without hiding behind a piece of paper has been a bit daunting.
"Honestly, I'd prefer to have another woman play this part," she said. "You can't help but feel vulnerable, exposed in a one-person show."
LePell believes it's important for her to be on stage now and then so she doesn't forget what it's like for the students at Chabot College in Hayward, where she has taught and directed for many years.
"I've performed in the student productions at Chabot whenever they've needed a mom. But those roles haven't been very taxing. This one-woman play is very different," LePell said.
A reading of her book "Playing My Hand" at Alameda Autobody in January became the impetus to adapt the work into a play.
"The response of the audience was so strong and so encouraging that I decided to take the leap. I attended a workshop on one-person shows and realized it could actually work," LePell said.
She felt it was only appropriate to bring the resulting play back to Alameda Autobody.
"It's such a beautiful, little space and I'm an intimate theater person," she said. "The people there such as Jacqueline Cooper are so supportive. I've also had the wonderful guidance of such skilled people as Laura Soble, Micaela McDonald and Aleksandra Wolska."
According to LePell, her play is a work of art and not a factual representation.
"It's not like everything in the play happened to me in real life," she said. "It's a piece of theater with an emotional engine."
LePell noted that the material is "slightly out of time order" allowing the audience to piece things together.
"I think it's important for the audience to be involved and connected to the piece, and, hopefully, the time sequence accomplishes that," she said.
LePell lives in Alameda with her husband, Mark, who teaches photography at Hayward High School, and her three children, Miles, 24, Arden, 22, and Liam, 10.
For more information on "Playing My Hand," email firstname.lastname@example.org.