American National Theater Director Peter Sellars has been rebuffed by the Helen Hayes Awards in his effort to get "The Iceman Cometh," nominated for four awards in the "prior to New York" category, reclassified as a "resident production."

"It must be stated categorically that 'The Iceman Cometh' was a resident production, produced by us and for us and for Washington," Sellars argued in a letter to the Helen Hayes Awards in late March. ". . . It is of a piece with the body of work that we are trying to create here, and its artificial isolation from that ongoing body of work is a very great disservice."

But an April 4 memo from the Helen Hayes Rules Committee to Kathy L. Dwyer, president of the board of directors of the Helen Hayes Awards, upheld the classification: ". . . it seems clear that the likelihood of ['Iceman'] moving to New York was a condition whereby the ANT production was undertaken in the first place, and a condition whereby many of the artists agreed to participate."

Sellars said last week he was "utterly appalled" and "totally stupefied" by the committee's findings, calling its claims "patently untrue.

"The actors were not contracted [for the New York production] until midway through the Washington run," he said. "['Iceman'] was not a Broadway play . . . it was put together by our rules. I'm not interested in making Washington more like New York," added Sellars. "I just want to be a Washington theater."

In his letter to the Helen Hayes Awards, Sellars also had questioned the placing of "Streamers," which was prepared exclusively for presentation at the Kennedy Center last summer by Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, in the "touring" category. He noted, on the other hand, that Arena Stage's production last year of "Tartuffe," which had previously been presented at Minneapolis' Guthrie Theatre using the same director, many of the same cast members and the same costumes, "would seem to be a dead ringer for the 'touring' category."

In its memo, the rules committee responded that "Streamers" was assembled in Chicago, "with no involvement by resident theater talent in Washington" and "was, in essence, a one-stop tour." The committee also stated that it had classified "Tartuffe," which garnered eight nominations, as a "resident" production "because it involved many local actors . . . and was assembled and rehearsed in Washington -- despite the fact that many of the elements were borrowed from a previous production."

"The existing categorizations seem terribly jury-rigged at the moment . . . and don't reflect the interesting theater work that's going on in Washington," said Sellars. "The whole business just needs rethinking."

Sellars said, however, that he supports the idea of having the Helen Hayes Awards. "I think it's great," he said, "but it should be this great leveler . . . where an actor from Source [Theatre] or Woolly Mammoth [Theatre Company] can be up there next to Jason Robards."

The awards will be announced at a ceremony at the National Theatre April 28. 'Mutiny' With Heston

Charlton Heston and Ben ("Chariots of Fire") Cross will appear together again in Herman Wouk's "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial," which will have a six-week run at the Eisenhower Theater beginning May 29. The show is a remounting of the successful production last season at London's Queen's Theatre. The Kennedy Center and Wouk's son, Joseph, will coproduce the American production, which will open at the Henry Fonda Theater in Los Angeles before moving to Washington. Benefit Performances

Proceeds from the opening night performance of American University's production of "The Madwoman of Chaillot" at 8 p.m. Thursday will benefit three Washington area shelters for homeless women -- the House of Ruth, Mount St. Carmel and the Florida Avenue Women's Shelter. Tickets cost $20 and include admission to the play at the New Lecture Hall Theatre and a reception afterward at the University Club; call 885-3436 . . .

Hecht's will sponsor a preview performance of "Dreamgirls" next Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the National Theatre to benefit the Washington Urban League's Operation Rescue, a program that recruits volunteers to tutor students from 55 District elementary schools in reading and math. Tickets are $30 to $100, with a postperformance reception in the Helen Hayes Gallery for patrons paying $100; call 863-1434. Odds and Ends

Students from the Model Secondary School for the Deaf will be ushering at Arena Stage for tonight's performance of "The Philadelphia Story," which will be signed by two interpreters and followed by a discussion led by MSSD teacher Eric Malzkuhn. The hearing impaired can call 484-0247 (telecommunication device for the deaf) for further information . . .The Folger Shakespeare Library will celebrate the Bard's 422nd birthday with free performances, demonstrations, children's activities and a costume contest Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m; call 544-7077. . .

Opening this week: tonight, "Biloxi Blues" at Baltimore's Mechanic Theatre; Thursday, "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?" at the Warner Theatre; Sunday, Source Theatre's production of "Persephone" at the Jarry; Monday, Sam Shepard's "Geography of a Horse Dreamer" at Source's Main Stage.