The producers of "Cabaret" are so happy with their Chicago run that they're making some people in Washington very unhappy by canceling dates here.

Staffers at the Warner Theatre estimate they've received about 20 irate phone calls and a few letters from people who booked tickets for the show, which now won't open here until Aug. 11. Some were put out because they had seats for dates between July 28 and Aug. 10, the portion of the run recently canceled in favor of extending the show in Chicago. Others were dismayed to learn that they won't be sitting at nightclub-style tables on the main floor.

Business in Chicago was just too good (around 80 percent of capacity according to Variety, closer to 85 percent according to the show's producers). "In Chicago, sales were going through the roof, and in Washington it looked like six weeks was a little too long in the middle of the summer," John Wimbs, national press representative for the "Cabaret" tour, said from New York last week.

Pace Theatrical Group, primary producers of the tour, decided to deep-six the tables to accommodate more people, particularly those who had to reschedule because of the reduced run. Warner Theatre publicist Vicky Radke said those who reschedule will get prime orchestra seating and those who purchased tables will get seats in comparable locations.

Pace producer Beth Smith said that the touring show installs a thrust stage, so audiences will still feel the intimacy of the production. She held out the possibility that "Cabaret" might come back to Washington, though the tour is booked through August 2000. She also said the theater might be compensated for the lost rent.

"We're here trying to promote goodwill for the Warner Theatre on our 75th anniversary, so it's kind of bad timing," the theater's Radke said. This was the longest-running show planned for the theater since its renovation in 1992. "We are so thrilled to have 'Cabaret,' " she said. "We've been talking about it for a year. . . . Hopefully it'll go without any further bumps in the road."

Warner's box office staff is still scrambling to contact ticket-holders, though most who booked tables have received letters explaining that specific change. If you bought seats by phone through Ticketmaster and need to make a change, call 703-573-SEAT or 301-808-6900. If you bought at a Ticketmaster outlet, go there. If you bought at the Warner, go back there.

Clothespins and Politics

Gay performance artist Tim Miller, who once took on Sen. Jesse Helms and sued the National Endowment for the Arts, will be on their turf starting tomorrow night. His solo show of autobiographical musings, "Shirts & Skin," runs through Aug. 8 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre.

Miller was one of four performance artists who sued the National Endowment for the Arts nearly a decade ago over new, congressionally mandated decency standards. The Supreme Court ruled against the four in one part of their case in June 1998.

Miller describes his new show as a "very lively and funny and highly distilled narrative about growing up as a gay person" with "a real feeling of a life lived during these last couple decades." He performed his earlier shows "My Queer Body" and "Naked Breath" at Woolly in 1993 and '95.

"My work has been so attacked by the right, and I think it's important to be right in there and show my work to audiences in the District," said Miller from his Los Angeles home. "Shirts & Skin," based on his published autobiography, doesn't directly refer to the NEA imbroglio, Miller said, except that any show about being gay is inherently a political act.

Oh, and there is one brief bit at the start of the show in which he imagines himself a gay sperm connecting with a lesbian ovum and "being chased around by Jesse Helms with a big net trying to squelch me at conception."

Miller teaches as a guest artist at colleges and performs solo shows in about 40 cities each year, attracting a fairly mixed crowd. Straight people tell him they enjoy his shows, though "they're a little surprised," he said.

In some places, "I may be the only kind of hip, alternative cultural thing happening in that corner of the state. . . . [It's] more important for me to be in Bozeman [Montana] than to be in New York City. I can really zap people up over what's going on in their communities."

Asked to describe a couple of favorite moments from "Shirts & Skin," Miller mentioned his account of learning German from a Mexican lesbian, Fraulein Rodriguez, who taught him "the irregular forms of the verb 'to be' " and other life lessons. And in "a very stimulating part of the show," he puts clothespins all over his naked body, using "good American wood clothespins."

Source Festival's Sluggish Start

Source Theatre Company continues its annual summer rite, the Washington Theatre Festival, this week. Three short plays about very different women--"Last Call," "Dancer" and "Girls Night Out in Boca"--share the stage tonight and tomorrow. Joe Palka's full-length suburban comedy of manners, "Hormonal Equinox," runs Thursday through Sunday, followed by the 10-minute play competition next Tuesday through Saturday.

Source has hit a couple of snags since reopening its spiffed-up 14th Street NW space in the spring. Sales were weak for its "we're back" production of Nicky Silver's "Pterodactyls." As a result, Managing Director Lisa Rose Middleton told Backstage, the theater hasn't been able to spend much on advertising the festival, which began slowly, selling only 40 to 60 of the 125 seats per night. To make matters worse, the theater's part-time publicity and marketing director quit. Attendance picked up to a livelier 72 percent of capacity last week with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's "Archie Loves Nathan" and Frank Cunat's "Not With a Bang." Call 1-800-494-8497 for tickets, 202-462-1073 for information.

Follow Spots

* Still more free Shakespeare: The Richmond Shakespeare Festival will perform "A Midsummer Night's Dream" Thursday evening at 8:30 at the Lubber Run Amphitheatre off Route 50 in Arlington. It's directed by Christopher Marino, who also runs Baltimore's Shakespeare fest. He's doing the play with only five cast members, so much comic doubling-up is required. Call 703-228-6960.

* Le Neon, now describing itself as "Theatre with a French Touch"--though performing in English--will present two productions next season at the Rosslyn Spectrum. Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac" will run October-December, and "Princesses" by French-Algerian writer Fatima Gallaire, "a story about a woman of today who confronts a society of yesterday," will run in April-May. Call 703-243-6366.

* American Century Theater's 1999-2000 season will begin Oct. 21 at Gunston Arts Center in Arlington with Marc Blitzstein's "The Cradle Will Rock," a pro-labor musical premiered in 1936 by Orson Welles, John Houseman and the Mercury Theatre. On Jan. 6, the company will open "Clarence Darrow" by David Rintels, the play in which Henry Fonda had his last stage hurrah. Mart Crowley's comedy-drama of gay life before Gay Pride, "The Boys in the Band," is set for a March 23 opening. American Century's season finale, opening June 6, 2000, will be Murray Schisgal's 1960s Broadway hit "Luv." Call 703-553-8782.