Linda Hamilton
Linda Hamilton
What would possess an established, much-in-demand stage, film or TV star to take a month out of his or her busy schedule and hole up in the country? The strawhat production schedule -- typically, a two-week rehearsal for a two-week run -- isn't exactly a walk in the park, and the facilities at some of the more venerable venues are often summer-camp rustic. Still, all sorts of stars seasonally hie themselves to Massachusetts' local theaters.

Linda Hamilton, who takes on the role Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at the Berkshire Theatre Festival July 10-28, became a world-famous face -- and hard-body -- with the first two Terminator films. She now views that whole "action" persona as a temporary aberration, since she started out yearning to tread the boards. And now that she can pretty much do what she pleases, what pleases her is challenging stage roles, such as the sensuous, seductive Maxine in The Night of the Iguana, in which she starred at BTF last summer.

Coming from Malibu, California, "I actually had no idea of where the Berkshires were," Hamilton admits. "But being here was a chance to sort of come back to my theatrical roots." Aside from the pleasures of the role, she's reveling in "the glut of culture that's available and the wonderful mix of that and the rural setting."

For triple Tony Award nominee Dee Hoty, the chance to appear as socialite Tibby McCullough in Paul Rudnick's comedy Regrets Only -- at the Cape Playhouse through July 14 -- had a multilayered appeal. In addition to loving the role, originated at New York's Manhattan Theater Club by Christine Baranski, Hoty was already familiar with the Playhouse's high caliber, having appeared there twice before. Indeed, it was Carole Shelley, a "laundry room buddy" back at their apartment building in New York, who'd first encouraged her to visit.

Moreover, having summered on Cape Cod as a child, Hoty was also eager to bask on its beaches -- even though, as of opening night, she hadn't had so much as a moment to stick her toes in the sand. But the real clincher? Her creed is "Connect the checks." Indeed, Hoty found she had just enough time to squeeze the show in before a Philadelphia booking as Grizabella in Cats -- "Back to the spandex - meow!" she says -- to be followed by another production of Stormy Weather, the Lena Horne tribute in which Hoty plays smart-set cabarettist Kay Thompson.

Hoty's castmates had other rationales for participating in the show. For example, Joel Higgins, who plays Jack McCullough, says that his real-life wife insisted that "It's time to get out of the house." Higgins, known to millions for his work on the NBC sitcom Silver Spoons, is midway through another project and admits he needed a bit of fresh air.

At the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the summer parade of marquee names has been a nonstop phenomenon since 1954. This month alone, the Festival's theaters will play home to such popular sitcom stars as Richard Kind and Wayne Knight in The Front Page and Wendie Malick and Jessica Hecht in Blithe Spirit. Meanwhile, another small-screen name, Nate Corddry, fresh off NBC's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, will star at Williamstown in Crispin Whittell's new play Villa America, July 11-22.

"How could you say no to the Berkshires in July? Sure, I'm missing out on reeeeeeeally important auditions for Adam Sandler movies in L.A., but I think I'll be okay," says Corddry. In fact, Villa America marks Corddry's sixth appearance at Williamstown. "I got my start here and owe any of my success to people who gave me my first small breaks. Also, spending all of last year shooting a TV series, where there is no rehearsal, was frustrating. To go back to the theater and spend three weeks building a performance is why I do what I do, basically.

Although a Williamstown newbie, Villa America's Matthew Bomer, a star of the ABC summer series Traveler, is already deeply appreciative of the milieu. "Williamstown is a chance to work with the best the theater world has to offer," he says. "It's a place to challenge and stretch yourself -- and it happens to work perfectly into the hiatus for most TV shows."

Bomer, who also starred on the TV series Tru Calling and the daytime drama Guiding Light, agrees with Corddry about the downside of "fast-paced" TV work: "A lot of times actors are left wanting more in terms of development of character, direction, and rehearsal time," he notes. "It's also relatively easy to get into a rhythm and a set pattern of working, and, as an artist, that type of security can be dangerous. Williamstown has been a reminder of why I love to act; it has recharged and deepened my creativity. On top of that, it's a hell of a fun party."