Perloff was born in Washington, D.C., to Marjorie Perloff, a professor and poetry critic, and Joseph K. Perloff, a professor of medicine and pediatrics and cardiologist. She attended Stanford University, where she received a B.A. Phi Beta Kappa in classics and comparative literature. After graduating from Stanford in 1980, Perloff attended St. Anne’s College, University of Oxford, as a Fulbright Fellow and spent two summers directing at the Edinburgh Festival, where she met her husband, attorney Anthony Giles. She makes her home in San Francisco and is the mother of two children, Alexandra (B.A., Harvard University, 2011) and Nicholas, also known as the producer and DJ "Wingtip." .
Perloff worked as an administrator at the International Theater Institute, then as a casting assistant with Joseph Papp’s Public Theater, while launching her directing career off-off Broadway. In 1986 she was named artistic director of the off-Broadway Classic Stage Company (CSC), where she worked until taking the helm of A.C.T. in 1992.
At CSC, Perloff directed the world premiere of Ezra Pound’s Elektra, the American premiere of Harold Pinter’s Mountain Language, and many classic works. Under her leadership, CSC won numerous OBIE Awards, including the 1988 OBIE for artistic excellence. She also served on the faculty of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University for seven years. In 1993, Perloff directed the world premiere of Steve Reich and Beryl Korot’s opera The Cave at the Vienna Festival and Brooklyn Academy of Music. She has also directed a new Elektra, adapted by Timberlake Wertenbaker, for the Getty Villa in Los Angeles.
In 1992, Perloff was appointed artistic director of A.C.T., where her first task was to raise $31 million to rebuild the earthquake-damaged Geary Theater (now the American Conservatory Theater), which reopened in January 1996 with Perloff's production of The Tempest, starring David Strathairn. Perloff's tenure at A.C.T. has been marked by the creation of a new core company of actors; revitalization of the acclaimed A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program; receipt of the 1996 Jujamcyn Theaters Award, honoring A.C.T.’s efforts to develop creative talent for the theater; a series of international collaborations, including The Virtual Stage and Electric Company Theatre's multi-media adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit, Robert Wilson and Tom Waits’ The Black Rider, Morris Panych and Wendy Gorling's The Overcoat, and Kneehigh Theatre's Brief Encounter; and the American premieres of plays by Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter. Perloff's directorial work for A.C.T. includes: The Tosca Project (co-created with choreographer Val Caniparoli; world premiere), Phèdre, Boleros for the Disenchanted, Rock 'n' Roll, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, The Government Inspector, After the War (world premiere), Travesties, Happy End, A Christmas Carol (co-adapted with Paul Walsh; world premiere), The Voysey Inheritance (adapted by David Mamet; world premiere), The Real Thing, A Mother, A Doll's House, Waiting for Godot, The Three Sisters, Night and Day, For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again, The Difficulty of Crossing a Field (world premiere), Celebration (world premiere), The Room, Enrico IV, The Misanthrope, The Invention of Love (American premiere), The Threepenny Opera, Indian Ink (American premiere), Old Times, Mary Stuart, Singer's Boy (world premiere), The Rose Tattoo, The Tempest, Arcadia, Hecuba, Home, Uncle Vanya, Antigone, Bon Appétit, Creditors, Hilda, No for an Answer (world premiere), her own play The Colossus of Rhodes, Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming and James Fenton’s adaptation of The Orphan of Zhao, starring BD Wong. Perloff retires after A.C.T.'s 2017-2018 season to pursue her freelance and writing career.<http://www.sfgate.com/performance/article/ACT-artistic-director-Carey-Perloff-to-step-down-11023403.php>
Perloff’s play The Colossus of Rhodes was a Susan Smith Blackburn Award finalist. Her play Luminescence Dating premiered in New York at The Ensemble Studio Theatre, was coproduced by A.C.T. and Magic Theatre, and is published by Dramatists Play Service. Her play Waiting for the Flood has received workshops at A.C.T., New York Stage and Film, and Roundabout Theatre Company. Her one-act The Morning After was a finalist for the Heideman Award at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Perloff’s play, Higher, was developed at New York Stage and Film and was presented at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum in November 2010. Perloff's play "Kinship" was translated into French and performed in Paris in 2014, with Isabelle Adjani, making her return to the theater after a long absence, in the starring role.
Perloff is a recipient of France’s Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the National Corporate Theatre Fund’s 2007 Artistic Achievement Award. In 2011 Perloff won the Blanche and Irving Laurie Theater Visions Award for her play HIGHER.