Le Neon Theatre, at the end of a well-reviewed season, finds itself nearly $50,000 in debt, with some salaries, including those of Artistic Directors Didier Rousselet and Monica Neagoy, unpaid. "Artistically we're doing very well, but financially we do have a hole," Neagoy said.

The couple attributed the shortfall to several causes: their increased production budget after moving two years ago from a tiny Arlington storefront to the county-subsidized but much larger Rosslyn Spectrum; their last show, two programs of Samuel Beckett's short plays, which was a dismal draw despite good notices; and a public misperception that the theater performs only in French.

Given the last, Le Neon now bills itself as "theater with a French touch." "Our inspiration will always come from French texts and our style of acting will always be French," said Neagoy, but an audience survey showed that only 7 percent of Le Neon's patrons speak French. "There is no economic possibility to run a theater mainly in French here. We must catch up to everyone," said Rousselet. "The shows we perform in French are for a very targeted audience"--and they won't be at the Spectrum anymore, but in smaller venues.

Neagoy sounded determined to follow the advice of a consultant, courtesy of the Arlington County Cultural Affairs Division: "With a couple of corporate sponsors and a couple of foundations, we could make it. One thing is that we're not aggressive enough. One needs to learn how to schmooze." This summer they intend to perform scenes for potential donors at parties arranged by Le Neon board members. They'll also serve up morsels of their show "Fascinating French Feast" at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage on July 31 and Aug. 1.

And next season? "Cyrano de Bergerac" in late October. In English.

Ba-Da-Bum

"We're still making discoveries about the millennium, because, you know, it's still going on," observed Austin Tichenor of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. The (significantly) "other" RSC begins previews tonight at the Kennedy Center of its latest reduction--"The Complete Millennium Musical (abridged)."

A musical from the guys who brought us "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)" and "The Bible--The Complete Word of God (abridged)" and "The Complete History of America (abridged)"?

"The 'reduced' in the Reduced Shakespeare Company name refers not only to the quantity of what we do, but the quality. So we are great singers--in the reduced vein," Tichenor said by phone from his Los Angeles home.

The thousand-year musical, developed by Tichenor, co-star Reed Martin and composer-arranger Nick Graham, has played in New Hampshire, Alaska, Pittsburgh and around the country, undergoing a lot of tinkering. Some historical events seemed too obscure and got bumped. The result, said Tichenor, is "a third-grade primer overview of the millennium," including the Dark Ages, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution and Information Age. It begins with Leif Ericson bumping into North America and leads right up to Kosovo.

The RSC has a precedent-setting new cast member this time--its first female trouper, Second City alum Dee Ryan, a theater major who became "addicted" to improv comedy. "I play all the women with famous bangs," she said, after Tichenor, who's her husband, handed her the phone. "Joan of Arc, Mamie Eisenhower, Marilyn Monroe . . ." Yup, Ryan'll fit right in.

She'll also play male characters--by necessity. "I was going to play more women, but when Austin and Reed wrote the script, they pointed out to me that there weren't that many women in history," she said. One man Ryan portrays is impressionist painter Claude Monet. "I'm very fond of him. He would say, 'Show me the Monet.' "

Ryan noted that "the purists are a little taken aback and a little saddened at the appearance of a woman." One guy rejected her offer of an autograph. Piped up Tichenor, "Geeky people are our biggest fans."

Richard Bauer Remembered

At Arena Stage's celebration of actor Richard Bauer's life on May 24, former artistic director Doug Wager told the tear- and laughter-filled gathering, "Losing him felt like losing my favorite playmate." While slides of Bauer's performances beamed above the Fichandler stage, colleagues recalled his generosity and the power of his eyes to engender trust onstage. Chris Bauer, the actor's son, joined Jeffery Thompson and Michael Howell in close harmony on "Midnight Train to Georgia," a family favorite. Bauer's widow and frequent co-star, Halo Wines, recalled dancing with him in his hospital room to the same tune. Olney's Jim Petosa read Lloyd Rose's appreciation from The Washington Post. A recording was played of Bauer reciting A.A. Milne's "King John's Christmas," taped for an Arena Christmas party he was too ill to attend. Longtime compatriot Tana Hicken quoted Ophelia in "Hamlet"--"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance," then placed a bouquet of it on the stage.

Follow Spots

* There'll be an open rehearsal of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre tomorrow night at 7:30. The alfresco reprise of the Shakespeare Theatre's 1998 production opens Saturday and runs through June 20.

* Stage actors who want to brush up for the League of Washington Theatres "cattle call" auditions in July (registration is June 7-8; info on the Web at www.lowt.org ) can sign up for the "Actors Prepare!" workshop offered by the Theatre Lab on Saturday at Catholic University. Full participants pay $125, observers $50. 202-588-8113.

* Cathy Simpson, so moving in Olney's recent "A Raisin in the Sun," will perform the one-character play "Pretty Fire" by Charlayne Woodard at the Lyceum in Alexandria, June 12-14, and at Source Theatre on Monday and Tuesday evenings, June 6-30. Alexandria-based Metrostage, raising funds to renovate its new space (with a new $50,000 challenge grant from the City of Alexandria), is presenting the tale about the playwright's African American family. 703-548-9044.

* "Felony," a new play about robbing banks via computer, opens tomorrow and runs through June 27 at Church Street Theater, produced by Dirty Players Theatre Company with a cast including Helen Hayes Award winner Rena Cherry Brown. Playwright Christine Axsmith teaches and writes about computer security. 202-434-4576 or www.felony.org.

CAPTION: 2000 maniacs: The Reduced Shakespeare Company's Austin Tichenor, Dee Ryan and Reed Martin, from left, in "The Complete Millennium Musical (abridged)."

CAPTION: Monica Neagoy and Didier Rousselet of Le Neon Theatre, which accents French works.