Thrills for the week

January 30
Ai on life: The compelling and beautiful works of award-winning distinguished poet Ai--the author of four published collections and a guest professor and artist at CU-Boulder--cut straight to the point, telling forthright stories of the downtrodden in a parade of cracked, unremitting voices. And accordingly, whether you're a scholar, a devotee of modern poetry, or simply a sensitive soul in search of some meaningful language, Ai's presence tonight at Toads in the Garden, the Auraria campus poetry series, is something to whoop, peep and croak about. Toads, held weekly at the Daily Grind Coffee House, located in Tower Alley at the Tivoli Student Union, 900 Auraria Pkwy., traditionally begins at 7:30 p.m. with an open reading (sign up early at the door); Ai performs afterward, at 8. Admission is $2 ($1 for students with ID); call 573-JAVA or 556-3940.

Escape from L.A.: In case you thought the wicked recording studios of the City of Angels were inhabited only by tattooed, drug-addicted and obscenely pierced circus performers masquerading as musicians, take another look. A couple of fresh-sounding Los Angeleno transplants, Chalk Farm and the Wild Colonials, make unadorned music that seems--my God!--to have a point. Combining folkish touches (the Colonials feature fiddle, pennywhistle and didgeridoo in their saucy instrumentation) with thoughtful, principled lyrics, both groups merit a listen. They get together tonight at 8 in a double bill at the Bluebird Theater, 3317 E. Colfax Ave.; you'll have a second chance to check them out Monday at 9 at the Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder. Admission to either show is five bucks; call the Bluebird, 322-2308, or the Fox, 443-3399, for ticket information.

SoCal yokels: Has the modernization of Shakespeare gone too far this time? Probably not. In fact, the Denver Center Theatre Company's newly updated take on The Comedy of Errors sounds as if it's right on the money, spreading out the bard's glut of hilarious stock characters on the beaches and boardwalks of sunny Southern California. Bedecked as surf bums, in-line skaters and other shoreside kooks, the reconfigured roles stick to tradition nicely--only in a different century. Sound like fun, fun, fun? The mistaken identities of yore collide in modern times, evoking belly laughs and hilarious hints of recognition on a set complete with real sand and a dune buggy, beginning tonight at 8 at the Stage Theatre, 14th and Curtis in the Plex. The run continues daily except Sundays, through February 23; for showtimes and tickets, ranging from $25 to $32, call 893-4100 or 830-TIXS.

January 31
Ladies write the plays: You don't have to be a woman to find something to enjoy at the Colorado Women Playwrights Festival--the six plays chosen for the fest sponsored by Industrial Arts Theatre Inc. traverse a curious gamut of subjects, from the life of flamboyant Mexican painter Frida Kahlo to the more bizarre effects of one woman's appointment with a psychiatrist. Two separate programs, featuring two and four of the varied women's works, respectively, will be presented in repertory at the New Denver Civic Theatre, 721 Santa Fe Drive, beginning tonight at 7:30 and continuing with performances on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, through February 23. Admission is $11 to $13 per program or $20 for a festival pass; call 595-3821 for reservations and a complete schedule.

All keyed up: The Colorado Symphony Orchestra serves up an evening of pure delight tonight at 7:30 when it presents dueling jazz pianists Billy Taylor and Ramsey Lewis on the Boettcher Concert Hall stage. The joint is guaranteed to swing when Taylor--a scholar known to public-radio and morning-television audiences as an arts commentator, and a veteran musician who's toured alongside the likes of Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Bud Powell and Mary Lou Williams--meets five-time Grammy winner Lewis, the man responsible for such mid-'60s instrumental hits as "The In Crowd" and "Wade in the Water." The pair will collaborate on a treasure box of tunes by Benny Moten, Oscar Peterson, Horace Silver and Duke Ellington, as well as a smattering of Lewis favorites; for tickets, $5 to $38, call 830-TIXS. Boettcher Hall is located at 14th and Curtis streets in the Plex.

February 1
Fun and gays: There's a definite niche for the growing ranks of gay and lesbian humorists, but the truth of the matter is this: Gay comics are funny, well, because they're funny, not because they're gay. Which means there'll be levels of high hilarity that anyone can applaud at the fourth annual Comedy Gay-La IV, presented tonight at 8 at the Auditorium Theatre, 14th and Curtis streets in the Plex. Presented by KBDI-TV/Channel 12 and Out Front Colorado, this year's show features a trio of outrageous outs--California standups Bob Smith and Robin Greenspan and Texan Paul J. Williams, best known for his white-trash real-estate-agent character, Nelda, a chain-smoker who flounces about in a beehive 'do. Gay-La tickets are $16; to purchase yours in advance, call 830-TIXS.

The sound and the fury: Though they were called "degenerates" by the Nazis, composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Kurt Weill have prevailed as geniuses of the twentieth century, along with lesser-known peers also banned by the Reich. Their legacy will be explored during Entartete Musik--The Beautiful and the Banned: Music Forbidden by the Third Reich, a concert and film series sponsored by the Mizel Family Cultural Arts Center of the Robert E. Loup Jewish Community Center. The series opens tonight at 8 with Jazz and Cabaret Music of the 1920s and 1930s, performed by the Colorado Chamber Players and featuring a selection of songs by Weill, a jazz sonata by Ervin Schulhoff and works by Bohuslav Martinu. Admission to the program, taking place in the JCC's Shwayder Theatre, 350 S. Dahlia St., is $10 ($8 students and seniors).

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