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BRAVE Buffalonians, brace yourselves for an influx into your once-peaceful city of all kinds of odd and interesting characters. The 1999-2000 theater season has begun.

A number of these offbeat folks -- the inventions of some of the best playwrights in the world -- have already arrived. Two of Bertolt Brecht's most arresting crossed lovers, Jenny Diver and Mac the Knife, swaggered into town last week. Arriving last night were Harry the Horse, Nathan Detroit and Nicely-Nicely, street thugs all, courtesy of Frank Loesser via Damon Runyon. Also currently on hand is a mannerly vegetarian Scot named Hamish who, against all reason, is in love with a rude, meat-eating woman -- both are the slightly whacked-out creations of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn.

Jenny and Mac -- along with a host of other singing cynics -- can be found in the ongoing Irish Classical Theater Company's production of Brecht's "The Threepenny Opera," with music by Kurt Weill.

Nathan Detroit and friends are singing and wise-talking their way through "Guys and Dolls," in the Kavinoky Theater's production of the Frank Loesser musical that opened Thursday night.

And poor Hamish battles it out with his love in Ayckbourn's comedy "Things We Do for Love," which opened Thursday night at Studio Arena Theater.

Many other intriguing, bizarre, silly -- even repugnant -- characters wait in the wings. Tonight is Curtain Up!, Buffalo's big theater kickoff celebration. It's their cue. Lovers in a fish market, a singing Jonah and the whale, a tour guide to a grotesque museum, a petty Quebecois housewife who has won a million trading stamps, a lesbian Joan of Arc, a variety of hoofers and singers -- all will step forth, part of the 14 plays that open Buffalo's rich and varied theater season.

Below is a run-down of what is currently up and what is coming in the first half of the season. (The turn of the millennium seems a good enough reason to hold back the last half for highlighting in 2000.) A brief description of the play or musical, where possible, is included and, if it is in hand, a quote from The News' reviewer. See the Gusto calendar for curtain times and specific show dates.

Alleyway Theater, Curtain Up Alley (852-2600). Through Oct. 3: World premiere of "Celebrity Fish, Purveyors to the Stars" by Dante Dincecco. A light romantic comedy about two couples who find love in a Brooklyn fish market.

Oct. 28 through Nov. 21: World premiere of "Patch of Earth" by Kitty Felde. Deals with the first war-crimes trial spawned by the Balkan crisis. Written by a correspondent for National Public Radio.

Buffalo Ensemble Theater Company, New Phoenix Theater, 95 N. Johnson Park (855-2225). Through Oct. 3: "Les Belles Soeurs" by Michel Tremblay, directed by Rochelle Saunders. A comedy about housewives in Quebec who win a million trading stamps. "The women take turns stepping forward to deliver a monologue. . . . Tremblay's use of this technique almost cries out for song." (Tony Cardinale, .)

Nov. 18 through Dec. 12: "Desdemona" by Paula Vogel, directed by Mark Wolf.

Buffalo United Artists, Upstairs Cabaret, 884 Main St. (886-9239). Tonight through Oct. 3: "Visiting Mr. Green" by Jeff Baron. Comedy/drama about a relationship between a retired elderly dry cleaner and the young corporate executive who accidentally hits him while driving.

HAG Theater, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Tri-Main Building, 2495 Main St. (835-7362). Tonight through Oct. 3: "The Second Coming of Joan of Arc" by Carolyn Gage, directed by Margaret Smith. Joan of Arc as a rebellious lesbian teen who runs away from an alcoholic home and incestuous father to finally unveil her oppressors.

Irish Classical Theatre Company, 625 Main St. (853-4282). Through Oct. 24: "The Threepenny Opera," the Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill musical directed by Kevin McHugh. "After a slow start, it falls into a nice lurching rhythm that holds Brecht's caustic-to-comic shuffle in fine balance." (Richard Huntington, .)

Nov. 11 through Dec. 12: "A Doll's House" by Henrik Ibsen, directed by Thomas Martin. A drama about a determined woman who sets herself against oppressive middle-class values.

Kavinoky Theater, 320 Porter Ave. at D'Youville College (881-7668). Through Oct. 24: "Guys and Dolls," Frank Loesser's ever-popular musical, directed and choreographed by Lynn Kurdziel-Formato.

Nov. 11 through Dec. 12: "The Memory of Water" by Shelagh Stephenson, a bittersweet comedy directed by David Lamb.

Lancaster Opera House, 21 Central Ave. (683-1776). Through Sept. 26: "On Broadway!" A revue directed by Anthony A. Kalinowski highlighting songs from "Les Miserables," "Ragtime," "The Lion King," "Chicago" and other Broadway hits.

Paul Robeson Theater, 350 Masten Ave. (884-2013, 884-2013 or 24 hours 885-2590). Next Friday through Oct. 17: "Mahalia" by Tom Stolz, directed by June Saunders Duell. A celebration of the life and music of the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.

Nov. 12 through Dec. 5: "Willie and Ester" by Richard Grahme Bronson. A comedy in which two middle-aged black lovers fantasize about robbing the Bank of America.

Phoenix Company, New Phoenix Theater, 95 N. Johnson Park (855-2225). Oct. 14 through Nov. 7: World premiere of "The Weekend" by Peter Cameron, winner of the Eric Bentley New Play Competition. A tale of love and mourning about a man trying to come to grips with the loss of his companion.

Promise Theater, Forbes Theater, 500 Pearl St. (693-0031). Tonight through Oct. 3: "In the Belly of the Whale" by Jane Pecora. A seafaring adventure with music based on the biblical story of Jonah.

Shakespeare in Delaware Park, Flickinger Performing Arts Center at Nichols School, Colvin Boulevard at Amherst Street (515-3929). Tonight through Sunday: "Vincent," a one-man show about the life of Vincent Van Gogh, by Leonard Nimoy.

Studio Arena, 710 Main St. (856-5650 or 800-777-8243). Through Oct. 10: American premiere of "Things We Do for Love," comedy by Alan Ayckbourn directed by Gavin Cameron-Webb. A riotous plot featuring a loving couple split up by a most unlikely affair. "This production does Ayckbourn's play proud. You will laugh and laugh." (Richard Huntington, .)

Oct. 22 through Nov. 20: "Summer and Smoke," drama by Tennessee Williams, directed by Howard Shalwitz. The third in the theater's retrospective of Williams' major plays. (Previews begin Oct. 17.)

Dec. 3 through 23: "Over the Tavern: Part I," comedy by Tom Dudzick. Buffalo writer Dudzick's beguiling recollection of his East Side boyhood. (Previews begin Nov. 28.)

Summerfare Musical Theater Company, Daemen Theater, 4380 Main St., Amherst (839-8540). Through Oct. 17: "A . . . My Name Will Always Be Alice," conceived by Micklin Silver and Julianne Boyd, directed by Javier Bustillos. A funny and sometimes bawdy presentation of songs and stories on and around the theme of women.

Ujima Theater Company, TheaterLoft, 545 Elmwood Ave. (883-0380). Through Oct. 17: "The Colored Museum" by George C. Wolfe, directed by Lorna C. Hill and Phil Knoerzer. "The show is zippy, colorful, wildly creepy and energetic. The acting, however, is at times annoyingly over-the-top and also often much too loud." (Patricia Donovan, .)

Nov. 12 through Dec. 5: "Robert Johnson: Trick the Devil" by Bill Harris. A university professor searches for the legendary blues musician Robert Johnson, who in this fictional tale has sold his soul to the devil in return for his musical prowess. With Johnson's music.

University at Buffalo Center for the Arts, Pfeifer Theater, 681 Main St. (645-ARTS or Ticketmaster/852-5000). Tonight and Saturday: "From Shakespeare to Song and Dance." Performance by Saul Elkin of "Chimes at Midnight," directed by Maria Horne, followed by pieces from Zodiaque Dance Company and UB's musical theater company.

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