Even with war waging in the gulf, John Simmons and the rest of Gross National Product have decided that the show must go on. The political satirists gathered late last week after the U.S. attack on Iraq began to do a few hasty rewrites in time for the group's regular Saturday gig at the Bayou. "Right now we are working furiously," said Simmons, who plays George Bush in the troupe's skits. "We are changing things around, but there will be the normal combination of generic humor and improvisation. We're like the Air Force pilots, we have to go on comedy alert."

Simmons had been using gulf politics in his Bush act since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait last August, but the war obviously is providing new material. "One of the things I've been doing lately is starting off with oil references: 'We want to Mobil-ize our forces -- and we're not going to Exxon-erate {Saddam},' " said Simmons in a dead-on Bush voice.

In terms of timing, the frenzy of international political activity couldn't have come at a better time for GNP. The group, which also performs the popular "Scandal Tour" of infamous Washington locales, turns 11 this month. Its "Bushcapades" show at the Bayou celebrated its third anniversary Friday, and at the end of this month GNP will make its second appearance at New York's famous Improv.

"It's not a laughing matter," Simmons said of the gulf war. "But it doesn't mean that topical comedy stops. There are a lot of aspects of what's going on where you can find humor. ... People will still want to see this kind of comedy. You can't just crawl into a hole and wait until this thing stops.

"Comedians are going to tell jokes," he said. "Just like musicians are going to write war songs."

Caught Short in Arlington

In what is sadly becoming a common story these days, another arts organization is having serious money problems. The Arlington Arts Center, one of the area's more innovative arts spaces, is drastically scaling back programs and exhibitions and soon may be forced to turn full-time staff positions into part-time slots. The center's popular guest speaker program has been cut back from six lecturers a year to one and its education programs have been scrapped. The AAC is facing a $95,000 shortfall in its $295,000 budget, according to Executive Director Katherine T. Freshley.

"It always is tight," said Freshley. "It's a rare, rare time at any arts center when in the beginning of the month ... you say that all your bills are going to be paid. It's a real touch-and-go life, but it doesn't sound good."

Last year the AAC got 47 percent of its budget from corporation and foundation support, but like many nonprofit groups, the center has seen that source of funding dwindle during the recession. And whereas 12 percent of the center's revenue came from state grants, Gov. Doug Wilder's deficit reduction plan has hit hard and state grants this year will fall drastically.

But for all the bad news, the AAC forges on. On Friday, the center opens "Issues of Gender," an exhibition of photographs by six area artists that examines the changing definitions of gender role in contemporary society. The opening, which starts at 7 p.m., also features the work of six performance artists and actors, each addressing the topic of the exhibition. And to add to the center's coffers, the AAC is sponsoring a fund-raiser on Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Pawn Shop Restaurant in Rosslyn.

While waiting for word on two grants that "could solve the center's immediate problems," Freshley said that "there is a sense of calm. We're working very hard. I don't think we feel that the arts center will necessarily close its doors, but we're going to be in there fighting to survive."

Starts and Stops

The Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore has announced May 5 as the opening date of its Museum of Asian Art. The Hackerman House, as it will be known, will house 1,000 pieces from the Walters's collection of Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Southeast Asian art ... As part of Carnegie Hall's 100th anniversary, the Kennedy Center will exhibit "On Stage at Carnegie Hall: A Centennial Celebration," a show of 70 photographs chronicling Carnegie Hall's great performances and performers from the last century. The exhibition opens Tuesday in the Performing Arts Library and is on view until March 16.