October 19, 1998 12:00 PM

Neither rain nor snow—nor the odd car crash or concussion (she has experienced both)—can keep Catherine Russell from her appointed rounds. Eight times a week for nearly 12 years—that’s 4,700-plus performances and counting—the diminutive actress has donned a navy-blue suit, strode onto a set depicting a wood-paneled sitting room and begun to play scheming psychiatrist Margaret Thorne Brent in the Off-Broadway murder mystery Perfect Crime. During the production’s marathon run, the New Canaan, Conn., native has missed only four performances—while serving as an attendant at her siblings’ nuptials. “I feel like I owe the audience,” admits Russell, 43. “People come because they want to see ‘that girl who’s always in it.’ ”

In fact, patrons at the Times Square show can hardly miss her, from the moment they set foot in the 165-seat Duffy Theater. The nicely toned woman in the black miniskirt who takes tickets? That’s Russell, who also converted the theater from its previous incarnation as a strip joint, serves as its general manager and can even be found unclogging toilets when needed. “I feel bad asking someone else to do it,” she says. “Besides, I’ve got a great plunger.

Russell also has a metabolism the Energizer Bunny might envy. In addition to her Crime time, the actress—who says she “lives on coffee and Snickers bars”—teaches five classes a week, ranging from English at Baruch College to a drama workshop for adolescent inmates at New York City’s Riker’s Island prison. “When I sleep, I sleep really well,” she jokes. The hectic pace doesn’t give her much time for her boyfriend of 3½ years, restaurateur Patrick Robustelli, 47, or mutts Jezebel and Clementine. And certainly no time to be sick. “I think you tend to stay healthy when you’re happy,” she says. “And I’m happy at what I do.”

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