Love Comes Lately: Singing Singer


The mercurial spirit and gnomic intellect of Isaac Bashevis Singer are properly difficult to trap in a bottle, but German director Jan Schütte comes as close as any in this atmospheric, exhilaratingly ambitious chamber piece that weaves the great Yiddish writer’s life and obsessions with three of his seminal stories. Traveling by train to New Hampshire to give a speech, Singer’s alter ego, Max Kohn, a diminutive old writer striving to reconcile deeper existential worries with prostate trouble and a restless libido (and played by Austrian actor Otto Tausig with wonderfully precise petulance), tangles with the real and fictive women who have shaped his life and work—among them an elusive Miami dowager (Caroline Aaron), a disenchanted former student (Barbara Hershey), a widow mourning her happy marriage (Tovah Feldshuh), and his sorely tested companion (Rhea Perlman). It can’t be said of Singer that he loved women; with old-school courtesy and often monstrous detachment, he treated them like dirt. But Schütte deftly juggles antic comedy, pathos, and melancholy to show how Singer used the opposite sex to fuel his terror of impotence, castration, and death—and, well into his eighties, his hope for self-renewal. His losses are forever our gain: Arriving at his destination, the old geezer loses his notes for the speech, and enthralls the audience with a story instead.