Each spring and fall the pulpit, cross and chairs at Friendship United Methodist Church in Falls Church are moved aside. Their place is taken by actors, stage sets and tables set with gingham tablecloths and fresh-cut flowers.

It all started in 1981, when the Friendship Players staged "dessert theater" at this neighborhood church. Lu Holley, president of the group, recalled: "Our audience at the first show was made up of a lot of relatives."

The troupe's current production, Neil Simon's comedy "Barefoot in the Park," is nearly sold out. The show's director, Andrew Heyman, said he believes the community is thrilled to have the opportunity to see live theater so close to home.

The enthusiasm of the Gallows Road neighbors who pitch in to help prepare for each show confirms his belief. Every evening before a performance, children and adults run around doing everything from baking cakes and brewing coffee to setting the tables and sampling the pineapple surprise. Backstage, the cast applies makeup, props are put in place, and sometimes a nervous cast member may be seen going over his lines one last time.

For Heyman, this is the final leg of an effort that began three months ago with auditions and then rehearsals. This is Heyman's fifth production with the group..

Susan Heyman, his wife, has the lead role of Corie and the worldly Victor Velasco is played by Andrew's father. The Heymans are known as the Barrymores of Falls Church.

As the theater filled one recent evening, the tension ran high and the noise level backstage fell to a hum. The players, for the most part, appeared relaxed -- except for one who had stepped outside for a breath of night air.

The final performances of "Barefoot in the Park" will be Oct. 19 and 20. For details, call 560-5454.

Other events:

The Blue Ridge Alliance of Performing Arts presents "Camelot" Oct. 19 and 20. Call 750-0888.

Wordstage Reader's Theatre presents "Don Juan in Hell" Oct. 19 and 20. Call 558-2161.