"I'm scared to death," says legendary local actress Ruth Hale regarding her first-time-ever appearance in another theatrical treasure - "Arsenic and Old Lace."

"I don't learn new lines quickly, and I have 300 lines in this play. Just when I think I have them, they disappear into the blue," she said during an interview this week.When it comes to performing in one of the nearly 80 plays she's written, she doesn't have a problem remembering the lines. But friends and acquaintances find it hard to believe that, in more than 60 years of acting, she's never before played one of the eccentric (and delightfully lethal) Brewster sisters.

In most cases, Hale noted, other actors on the stage can come to her rescue when she delivers a slightly erroneous line of dialogue "but they can't save me here when I accidentally call other characters by the wrong names. Sometimes I'll call someone Mister when I should say Doctor."

"I remember other roles because I've played them two or three times and they're already in my head and they come back," she said.

Wasatch Front residents have seen and heard a lot of Hale in recent months - not only on stage but in a multitude of television commercials and voiceover recordings. And, because 1997 marked the 50th anniversary of the Hale and Dietlein families' Glendale Centre Theatre - a Southern California landmark - Hale was busy acting in several of the plays she and her husband, the late Nathan Hale, had written, plus one Broadway musical.

In addition to playing Henry Higgins' frustrated mother in "My Fair Lady" at the Hale Centre Theatre in South Salt Lake, she performed in her own "Love Is For the Byrds" at the Glendale theater (followed by repeat performances in Utah), her "Educated Heart" at the Hale Center Theater Orem, and a couple of weekend productions at the rustic Hale Summer Theater, which the family operates on their ranch in Grover, west of Capitol Reef National Park.

Commenting on her recent flurry of TV commercials, she said "I'm not very proud of the Jazz one. When they put it together, they added a bleep-bleep-bleep and it sounds like I'm swearing."

She's done eight commercials for Deseret First Credit Union, including one in which she rides a motorcycle.

"That one was a lot of fun. I used to ride a motorcycle myself until I was in my 70s - just a little Honda 90, which was handy for getting around on the ranch."

Getting back to her next role as Abby Brewster in "Arsenic and Old Lace," she said, "I think I'll enjoy the experience more when I get my lines down. Last night I kept saying `We've always wanted to do a double wedding,' when I should have said double funeral."

If the construction stays on schedule, the Hales' new theater - an $8 million state-of-the-art facility in West Valley City - will have its formal grand opening on Ruth's 90th birthday, Oct. 14, bringing Ruth Hale full circle. She was born in Granger, the city which later became part of West Valley City.

- ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, Joseph Kesselring's venerable Broadway comedy sprinkled with liberal doses of fatal elderberry wine and more than a few eccentric characters (one of their brothers is convinced he's President Teddy Roosevelt), will play April 3-May 11 at the HCT.

The run is already more than 80 percent sold out.

Alternating with Ruth Hale in the role of Abby will be longtime HCT favorite Annette Wright. Trading off in the role of Martha, the other spinster sister, will be Joan Mullaney and Marjorie Wilson.

Other performers include Greg Falge and Ben Carling as Mortimer Brewster, the sisters' frenzied drama critic nephew; Bryon Finch and Sterling Brimley as Teddy (Brewster . . . not Roosevelt); JaceSon Barrus and Ryan Bowen as Jonathan Brewster, the ladies' criminally insane nephew; Russ Peacock and William Bisson as Jonathan's equally weird sidekick, Dr. Einstein, and Jennie Whitlock and Marissa Young as Mortimer's girlfriend, Elaine.

Also in the cast are Don Cosney and Craig Camp as Elaine's devoted father, the Rev. Dr. Harper, along with Gordon Johnson, Lowell Wilson, Zac Zumbrunnen, Robert Larsen, Christopher Aguayo, Andrew Barrus, Mike Brown, Andrew Looney, Emily K. Reed and Nikki Whitlock.

Performances will be Mondays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., April 3-May 11, with Saturday matinees at 3:30 p.m. on April 11, 18 and 25 and May 2 and 9. There will be an additional noon matinee on May 9. All seats are reserved. Tickets range from $6 to $11. For reservations, call the box office at 484-9257. The theater is located at 2801 S. Main.