With the Shellie Awards over, local theater companies have gone back to what they do best -- presenting entertaining shows that, of course, will compete in next year's Shellie Awards. The first opened this past weekend at Role Players Ensemble in Danville.

Directed by Katja Rivera, "Expecting Isabel" covers the mind-numbing gauntlet an infertile couple must navigate on the road to having a child. Full of humor and colorful characters, Lisa Loomer's play doesn't pull any punches in describing the bizarre, outrageously expensive procedures involved and the emotional toll it takes on the would-be parents.

Sylvia Burboeck and Damien Seperi unite again as the couple, Miranda and Nick. The two played Eleanor and Richard in Role Players production of "Lion in Winter" two seasons ago. Both of these very likable actors easily manage to convey the pathos of the situation while adding needed levity.

Rivera has also found a talented ensemble flexible enough to portray myriad roles with comedic flair. They include Monica Cortes-Viharo, Alisha Ehrlich, John Hale (especially funny as the marriage counselor), Nicole Analise Javier (providing a tender moment as Lupe), Daniel Lupa-Chazan, and Mary Jo Price.


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Rivera keeps the action moving with minimal set and furniture. An outline of New York, beautifully lit by Chris Guptill, sets the stage, with the actors moving chairs around as locations change allowing the action to flow easily. Nick and Miranda narrate events for the audience as they effortlessly move from scene to scene. Lisa Danz designed the many costumes needed.

"Expecting Isabel" continues through Feb. 9 at the Village Theatre, 233 Front St. in Danville. Call 925-314-3400 or go to www.villagetheatreshows.com.

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    Next up is Australian playwright Warwick Moss' provocatively titled "Down an Alley Filled With Cats." Produced by Diablo Actors' Ensemble, the suspenseful drama takes place in a bookshop in Sydney, Australia. A man enters the small bookshop at closing time in pursuit of a particular work that contains a mysterious code, which may identify the location of a priceless artifact.

    Directed by Scot Fryer, this enticing mystery features Jeremy Cole and Avi Jacobson. According to the New York Post, the gripping adventure "will raise the fur on the back of your neck."

    The show runs Jan. 25 through Feb. 9 at 1345 Locust St. in Walnut Creek. Call 866-811-4111 or go to www.diabloactors.com.

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    Cats seem to be a popular play topic in 2013, and as a lover of all things feline, that works for me.

    Onstage Theatre presents "Spots of a Leopard" by John Baker Sr. Running Jan. 25-Feb. 10, the rambunctious comedy follows a pair of '70s-era bachelors on their romantic adventures. One, a television actor, has headed back to his hometown to reconnect with two ex-girlfriends. While there, he stays with his shy best friend and makes it his mission to fix him up with the very desirable blonde in his building. This decidedly adult comedy features Julia McArthur, Edwin Peabody, Jennifer Brown Peabody, Sarah Rozett and Ryan Terry.

    Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:15 p.m. with a Thursday night 7:30 p.m. show on Jan. 31 and two Sunday shows at 2:15 p.m. on Feb. 3 and Feb. 10. Shows take place at Cue Productions Live, 1935 Colfax St. in Concord. Call 925-518-3277.

    And for those youngest theatergoers, be sure to try Saint Mary's College student production of "The Princess and the Pea" (running just one hour) on Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. and Jan. 31 at 4 p.m. at the school's LeFevre Theatre, 1928 St. Marys Road in Moraga.

    Directed and adapted by Michael Cook, the show is designed, built and performed by students enrolled in the January Term course "Children's Theatre." Tickets are only $8. Call 925-631-4670 or go to www.brownpapertickets.com.

    Contact Sally Hogarty at sallyhogarty@gmail.com