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the Man Who Didn’t Love Women

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 (played by Austrian actor Otto Tausig with wonderfully precise petulance), a diminutive old writer striving to reconcile deeper existential worries with prostate trouble and a restless libido, 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 (Tovah Feldshuh) mourning her happy marriage, 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 80s, his hope for self-renewal. His losses are forever our gain: Arriving at his destination, the old geezer loses his notes for the speech, but enthralls the audience with a story instead. (Music Hall; Town Center 5)—Ella Taylor