By Jean Metcalfe

It is an evening in the 1930s.

You're almost invisible at your table in a dark corner of. a cheap hotel nightclub. The sounds of Benny Goodman 's "Stompin ' at the Savoy" and Bessie Smith 's "Blue Blues" fill the air. You watch silently as the lives of three women and a roguish saloon singer unfold....

The technology of virtual reality isn't essential to explore the lives of the down-on-her-luck blues singer, a woman of the world, the new girl in town, and the male singer who populate the rundown hotel bar. All that is needed is a seat in the Pamela Brown Auditorium for Actors Theatre's production of "Blues in the Night, which runs Feb. 7 through March 2.

"Blues in the Night," conceived and originally directed by Sheldon Epps, features 27 blues and jazz songs of the '20s and '30s and utilizes an onstage live band composed of local musicians. Directed by Scott Kasbaum, who also provides piano accompaniment, the 5-piece group includes Darryel Cotten (drums), Gary Falk (saxophone). Gary Hicks (trumpet), Tom Jolly (trumpet), and Tyrone Wheeler (bass).

"Musically, I'd say it's going to be something pretty good," Gary Falk said after the first band rehearsal. "It's going to be a lot of playing. There's a lot of tunes in this thing."

What is the hardest part of playing such an extended gig?

"The days you spend in rehearsal," Falk said, not to mention the usual chores of setting up and tearing down. "Once the show starts it's nothing [easy]."

The gig came at a good time for Falk; he was able to clear his calendar a bit easier for the six week commitment (counting rehearsals) than would ordinarily have been the case.

With the weather-fickle month of January in your rearview mirror and yet another winter month in the headlights, February could well be the time to get the blues. And what better place to get them than at The State Theatre of Kentucky.

Take control of your life in '96; get the blues by reservation. Call the Actors Theatre of Louisville box office at 584-1205; outside the metro area, dial 1-800-4-ATL-TIX.

The ATL production of "Blues in the Night" is underwritten by Philip Morris USA.

Other events that coincide with the run of the play include "When the Blues Start Talking: Blues/Jazz Traditions in American History," a special exhibit relating to the blues/jazz musical art form. Interactive listening stations/kiosks will be Scattered throughout the lobbies of the Theatre. Louisville's own Walnut Street and its contribution to blues history will be featured in the exhibit, including photos from the personal collections of Louisville blues/jazz greats Sara Martin, Helen Humes and Tilford and Anna Brown. The exhibit, underwritten in part by the Kentucky Humanities Council with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities, runs from Feb. 6 through March 2 and is free and open to the public. At the close of the exhibit, the tapes of music, verbal history and photographs will be given to the U of L School of Music Library for their archives.

The Second Annual African American Invitational Art Exhibition, partially underwritten by the Bank of Louisville, runs Feb. 6 through March 2 and focuses on art depicting music, musical attitudes and interpretations, particularly in blues and jazz. The exhibit features painting, sculpture and multimedia works by local and regional artists.

This exhibit is also free and open to the public.