The Studio Theatre announced last week that it had secured the rights to "The Normal Heart," Larry Kramer's drama about the early days of the AIDS crisis in New York. The play, a Washington premiere and the Studio's final production of the season, opens May 14 and runs through June 15.

Noting that "The Normal Heart" would at some point this season also be staged in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Baltimore, Joy Zinoman, artistic and managing director for the Studio, said, "I thought that Washington should have its own production. I think it's got to be out . . . it's important stuff."

In "The Normal Heart," Kramer examines the relationship between promiscuity and the spread of AIDS, expressly favoring monogamy but also presenting other views advocating everything from celibacy to total sexual freedom.

Ben Cameron, literary manager for Playmaker's Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, N.C., and the former associate artistic director at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, will direct. The cast is still to be named. 'Automatic Pilot' at Horizons

"Automatic Pilot," a biting comedy by Canadian playwright Erika Ritter that has its American premiere Thursday at Horizons Theatre, focuses on a stand-up comedienne and how she uses humor as a defense mechanism in her relationships with three men.

"Women's humor is often very self-denigrating," noted Ritter, who did stand-up routines one night a week for two months in a Toronto nightclub to research and develop her play. "There's sort of an exorcism involved in comediennes telling their problems to total strangers."

The character in "Automatic Pilot," she said, "uses comedy as a way of criticizing failure in her life. It begins as therapeutic and winds up tyrannical," with Charlie becoming "dominated by her need to perform, ransacking her own life" for more material.

Though the play is indisputably about a woman, "Automatic Pilot" is not exclusively a "women's play," Ritter said, but rather a play about "the inability of people to make relationships . . . people who walk around like they're on automatic pilot."

Directed by Susan Baronoff, the play stars Stephanie Cavanaugh, Christopher Hurt, Martin Goldsmith and Vincent Brown, and runs through Feb. 16. For more information call 342-7706. New Arts Fundraiser

The New Arts Theatre will hold its first annual fundraiser -- "An Evening of Fun and Frolic" -- Jan. 24 at the Arts Club of Washington. Karen Akers is the honorary chairwoman for the event, which will include music by Rob Bowman, Debra Tidwell and Howard University's Jazz Faction Quintet; a magician, a belly dancer and clowns; and a cocktail buffet. Tickets cost $50; call 469-7008 or 525-2027. Jon Spelman, Storyteller

Storyteller Jon Spelman thinks he knows why the genre has had difficulty being acknowledged as "theater." "We tend to associate it with reading books to children before they go to bed," he said.

Spelman will offer a counter to that stereotype when he appears in a month-long series of five storytelling programs -- three for adults and two for families -- at the National Portrait Gallery beginning Thursday.

Spelman's programs range from "Frankenstein," in which he narrates the 1817 Mary Shelley novel from the point of view of The Creature, to "Grease Heat: Tales From the American Landscape," a compilation of ironic and, at times, bawdy stories, including urban folklore, revitalized adult fairy tales (such as a combined version of "King Lear" and "Cinderella") and stories by Mark Twain, James Thurber and Zora Neale Huston.

"There's a tendency in a lot of theater to try and make it cinematic," said Spelman, who before turning to storytelling spent 12 years as an actor and a director. "Storytelling takes theater back to its more original place . . . with the power of the word."

All of Spelman's shows are free, but reservations are suggested; call 357-2729. Odds and Ends

"42nd Street," starring Dolores Gray and Barry Nelson, comes to the Morris Mechanic in Baltimore for a four-week engagement starting Feb. 11 . . . "What the Butler Saw," Joe Orton's English farce, will be the Round House Theatre's fourth production this season, replacing "The Firebugs," which originally was scheduled for the Feb. 28-March 30 time slot.

Opening: Tuesday, "Cyrano de Bergerac" at the Morris Mechanic in Baltimore; Wednesday, John Guare's "Landscape of the Body" at the Studio; and "Secret Honor," the scalding fable about Richard Nixon, at New Playwrights'; Thursday, "Bill Harris: I Am the Blues" at DC Space; Friday, "Sally and Marsha" at the Round House.