Weak Yarn in `Loose Knit'

Despite funny dating scenes, the play lacks cohesion

LOOSE KNIT. Play by Theresa Rebeck. A tSecond Stage through July 31.

`LOOSE Knit" is an apt title for this play, which details the social and romantic complications among five women who gather for a weekly gab session while they do their knitting. Regardless of whether or not knitting is trendy among younger women these days, the most highly crafted aspects of the evening are the numerous samples of the women's handiwork festooned around the stage.

Lily (Patricia Kalember of NBC's `Sisters') is married to the amiable Bob (Reed Birney), but Bob is having an affair with Lily's younger sister, Liz (Mary Ward). Liz interviews movie stars for a living and complains bitterly about her work. The other women include: Paula (Tamara Tunie), a psychologist who admits having trouble applying her professional standards to her own life; Gina (Kristine Nielsen), despondent over her recent job loss; and Margie (Constance Shulman), who has a tendency to blather on in an annoying pseudo-Southern accent.

Lily sets up three of the women on a blind date with the same man - a Master of the Universe-type holdover from the 1980s - without any of them knowing about the others. Miles (Daniel Gerroll) is a smug superior yuppie who conducts each date like a job interview.

It is Liz who finds this most offensive, and the two nearly come to blows. But there is an undeniable mutual attraction, setting in motion a chain of messy repercussions. Ultimately, both Liz and Lily reject Bob, and he seeks comfort in his own hilarious lunchtime confrontation with Miles.

The scenes with Miles have more resonance and more biting wit than anything else in the play, which is ironic considering its feminist perspective. For all his arrogance, Miles, as he is the first to point out, gets things done, and the character is as commanding on stage as he might be in real life. This is a credit not only to the playwright's conception, but also to Gerroll's performance. His controlled fastidiousness hints at Miles's insecurity.

Dating scenes aside, the play suffers from its weak structure and its even weaker characterizations (two of the women are little more than a collection of nervous tics), and Rebeck's mundane dialogue doesn't help. The numerous scenes in which the women ruminate over their problems don't have the impact of even a frothy comedy like "Steel Magnolias."

The actresses, under the direction of Beth Schachter, cope as best they can with their troublesome material, although Mary Ward overdoes Liz's immaturity, and Constance Shulman overdoes just about everything. The Second Stage is to be commended for its support of a new playwright, but more script development seems in order.

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