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Critics' Calls

ART / Mary Ann Marger

SARASOTA SHOWS _ Plenty of new shows fill the Sarasota calendar this weekend. Several downtown galleries hold openings 6-8 tonight including Corbino Galleries, 1472 Main St. (paintings by Jon Corbino, Jerry Farnsworth and others); American Scene, 1463 Main St. (Frederic Taubes); J.E. Voorhees, 1359 Main St. (Frederic Murphy); and Hodgell Gallery, 46 S. Palm Ave. (Jonas Gerard and others). The traveling exhibit of the American Watercolor Society opens its only Florida showing at the Sarasota Visual Art Center 5-7 p.m. Saturday and runs through March 28; 707 N. Tamiami Trail. All shows including openings are free.

AIDS ARTREACH _ AIDS, a powerful motivating force for expression, pairs artists with others in two exhibits opening this weekend. At Florida Center for Contemporary Art, "AIDS Artreach, Phase 3," pairing artists with people with AIDS, opens with a reception 7-9 tonight and runs through April 6. HIV Positive Guilt Negative, a first anniversary show opens 3-6 p.m. Saturday and runs through March 31. The gallery seeks donors of art supplies for HIV-positive artists. Both shows are free. Florida Center (through April 6) is at 1513 E Eighth Ave., Tampa; 248-1171; HIV Positive is at 2608 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; 323-1828.

THEATER / John Fleming

GEORGE _ Stephen Sondheim's musical Sunday in the Park with George, which is about the George Seurat painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte, is staged by a touring company at 8 tonight at Mahaffey Theater. Tickets are $16 and $19. Call 892-5767. Anne Shamas of the Museum of Fine Arts gives a pre-performance lecture and slide presentation on Seurat and impressionism at 6:30. To make lecture reservations, call 892-5891.

SHIRLEY _ Loretta Swit, formerly in MASH on TV, performs Willy Russell's one-woman show Shirley Valentine at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday at Van Wezel Hall. Tickets are $22-$26. Call 953-3368 or (800) 826-9303. The show moves to Ruth Eckerd Hall at 8 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are $19-$24. Call 791-7400.

SIMONE _ Shooting Simone, a play by Lynne Kaufman about the relationship of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, opens at 8 p.m. Thursday and continues through April 9 at Florida Studio Theatre. Tickets are $12-$20. Call 366-9796.

TV / Jennifer L. Stevenson

A WONDERFUL LIFE _ Saturday morning may never be the same after Balthazar, Rugby and Raisin are through with you and your kids. The weekend's top pick is the thoroughly delightful Jim Henson's The Secret Life of Toys, a weekly series of toytime muppets by Jim Henson productions. Aimed at preschoolers (but appealing to all), the series follows the adventures of the toys in the nursery who come to life after the children leave. The gang includes Balthazar the old Teddy, Rugby the Tiger, Raisin the Doll, Mew the Mouse and Hortense the Rocking Horse. Best of all, the Disney Channel is offering free service this weekend so you can slip into toyland without charge. Saturday morning at 8:30 on The Disney Channel.

GOING HOME _ CBS' new drama, The Road Home, boasts a fine cast with Frances Sternhagen and Karen Allen, who star in this saga of a North Carolina family of shrimpers. (Also look for two St. Elsewhere alumni who are regulars: Ed Flanders and Terrence Knox.) With Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman as a lead-in, The Road Home benefits from a strong audience, which should appreciate the drama. Saturday night at 9 on WTVT-Ch. 13.

DON'T SLEEP LATE _ Sunday mornings certainly have never been the same since Charles Kuralt took over 15 years ago this week with this CBS news program. Sunday Morning. TV's classiest morning show celebrates its birthday with Kuralt's reflections and an interview with president Jimmy Carter and actor Robert Redford. Among the Sunday Morning innovations (and our favorite) is the closing scene of nature narrated only by natural sounds. Be it birds or burbling brooks, Sunday Morning always leaves the room with grace. Sunday at 9 on WTVT-Ch. 13.

MUSIC / John Fleming

SINGER _ Linda Eder, who starred in the musical Svengali at the Asolo Theatre several seasons ago, sings at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at Van Wezel Hall. The concert is a benefit for the Asolo and Van Wezel. Tickets are $20-$28. Call 953-3368 or (800) 826-9303.

PIANIST _ William H. Chapman Nyaho plays works of Beethoven, Chopin, Ginastera and Nathaniel Detts in a piano recital at 3 p.m. Sunday at Roberts Music Center of Eckerd College. Admission is free. Call 864-8471.

POP MUSIC / Tony Green

KOKO TAYLOR _ The 60-plus-year-old Taylor is the equivalent of a human hurricane (maybe that's why her most recent album is called Force of Nature). A full-voiced belter in the Big Mama Thornton tradition, Taylor and her band, The Blues Machine, return to the bay area after playing the Clearwater Jazz Holiday last fall. Taylor plays Skipper's Smokehouse Thursday at 8 p.m. Halcyon opens. Tickets are $9 in advance, $14 day of the show.

YO LA TENGO _ These guys don't shy away from the pleasure of pure sound. On their major-label debut, Painful (Matador/Atlantic), the Hoboken, N.J., trio decorates its dreamy compositions with heavy doses of guitar noise and textures. Yo La Tengo will play the Stone Lounge in Tampa on Saturday. Tickets are $5.

THE DUKE ELLINGTON ORCHESTRA CONDUCTED BY MERCER ELLINGTON _ The legendary composer's son (formerly the band's trumpet player and manager) has been carrying on since Duke's death in 1974. The band won a 1988 Grammy for Digital Duke and was nominated in 1990 for Music is my Mistress. It will play Ruth Eckerd Hall on Sunday) at 7 p.m. Tickets are $16 and $19.

FILM / Steve Persall

TASTY GRAPE _ This week (finally) marks the arrival in Tampa Bay of Lasse Hallstrom's heralded What's Eating Gilbert Grape, a comedy-drama as offbeat and intriguing as its title. Critics across the nation _ even in nearby cities like Miami and Jacksonville _ have lauded the film for two months, but we're on the tail end of its cautious release schedule. Johnny Depp has the title role, an emotionally detached man caught in a one-stoplight town with his pained, obese mother (a debut by Darlene Cates) and a mentally retarded brother (Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio). Into Gilbert's meaningless life sashays Becky (Juliette Lewis), a free spirit who may possibly wake him from his sleepy existence. What's Eating Gilbert Grape possesses the same sweet eccentricity of Hallstrom's stateside breakthough, My Life as a Dog, with a roster of fine performances.