The board of the New Playwrights' Theatre has decided to extend its fund-raising deadline an extra 30 days, because although the $250,000 goal has not been reached, there is a good possibility that it may be.

"We have 100 prospects and 55 have been contacted so far," said artistic director Arthur Bartow. "It's been particularly difficult to raise money from corporations in this period of time because their funding is worked out so far in advance. People have been saying, 'Come back next fall.' "

The board originally set a 90-day deadline, which expires tomorrow, to raise the money or fold the theater. So far, $120,000 has been raised.

Ironically, the financial crisis has come at a time of critical success for the theater. "Beautiful Lady," the Elizabeth Swados musical, was well received and has been slated for a new production at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles next fall -- but made no money for the theater because of the expenses of a large cast. Spalding Gray, the monologuist currently in residence, is selling out, however, and for the first time this year NPT is actually making a profit.

Bartow said the fund-raising hopes are pinned largely on major corporations and foundations such as IBM, Cafritz and the Philip L. Graham Fund. Exxon broke the ice a few weeks ago with a grant of $8,000, and Bartow hopes the others will follow suit. A direct mail campaign to subscribers and supporters produced $20,000, and a second appeal to the same people flushed out $2,000 in the first week.

"It'll be a squeaker," Bartow said. "This is a nervous time for us."

Meanwhile, the theater is holding in abeyance production of the season's final play, "After My Own Heart," which Bartow himself is directing. He is auditioning actors but has not yet started rehearsals for the play, a romantic comedy scheduled to open May 31.

Other activities continue. Tonight's free reading is "Murder in Ward 3-X," written, directed and acted by John Spitzer, Greenfair Moses III and Robert Clymire. The play concerns three murder suspects in a mental ward who all claim to be Jesus Christ.