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LOOSE KNIT, Frump Tucker Theatre Company, at the Bailiwick Arts Center. A heady amalgam of Waiting to Exhale, The Women, Quilters, the Oprah show, and your favorite soap, Theresa Rebeck's energetic but overlong comedy assembles five friends who gather weekly to knit sweaters and purl secrets.

Rebeck is a savvy if formulaic TV writer who knows how to press audience buttons--and how to trigger the breakdowns and confessions that fuel this therapeutic fare. Full-blooded and crudely honest, the knitters touch on such issues as midlife crises, sibling rivalry, unemployment, affirmative action, guilt inducement, psychoanalysis, power tripping, and self-esteem and control. And they share men trouble. (Since men are the currency of all their transactions, the references to Gloria Steinem seem forlorn at best.) In the play's most vivid scenes, three friends end up dating the same foul yup, a man so repulsive--self-absorbed, passive-aggressive, and filthy rich--that he brings them even closer together. Least original are the analytical arguments between one steady, strong sister and the erratic woman who stole her man.

Vincent Mahler's in-the-round staging seldom drops a stitch. Though overall the cast are too young for their parts, they do balance hilarity with solidarity. Kelly Lynn Hogan is poignant, mired in a very defensive date with Edward Cunningham's oily plutocrat; Ruth Farrimond brings a steadying dignity to the wiser sister; and Laura Wells plays the bad one with nerve to spare. --Lawrence Bommer

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