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What is the recipe for a psychopath? I have heard it said that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and that usually suffices to soothe those of us who have chosen the path of parenthood.

I’m okay, so my child will be fine. Reality has other ideas. Our progeny is a product of nature and nurture. What if we really don’t know the person we have chosen to reproduce with. What if we really weren’t ready to guide a person to adulthood because we weren’t yet really done developing ourselves?

“A Wolf’s Mother” at the Garage Theatre asks all these questions and more. In July and August of 1969, Charles Milles Maddox Manson and his ‘family’ committed nine heinous murders. If you are unaware of who Manson is, his is a twisted and complicated story which in this play is explored from the side of his mother.

Kathleen Maddox has been known to us primarily through the reports of her son Charles and the press. Kathleen shrank from the spotlight, but now in the solidly crafted work by Cary J. Simowitz, she is given a voice and a moment to be seen.

The play was developed in part as a staged reading in the PANNDORA’s BOX 12th Annual New Works Festival at the Garage Theatre. Simowitz spent two years investigating her life and "A Wolf's Mother" is the second of two plays that explore her life.

The title of the play comes, surprisingly from Sondheim's "Into the Woods." At one point Little Red Riding Hood says to the Witch, "A wolf's not the same!" The Witch replies, "Ask a wolf's mother…"

This solidly crafted piece is skillfully directed by Sonja Berggren. The situations and relationships in the play are mostly slice of life realism. And the actors through her guidance all give powerful performances.

Over the course of a very quick 90 minutes, we watch Kathleen (Karen Wray) endure and recover, over and over, as if one morning was a fractal representation of her entire life to that point. Wray brings a solid and steady spirit to Kathleen that rings true. Her performance reveals a soul that has endured wave after wave of personal tragedy.

Kathleen's foil, Charley (Joshua Evans), is also crafted with great agility. Evans shifts sometimes subtly, sometimes abruptly through the various manipulations Charley tortures his Mother with. His presence is truly unnerving as the size of the theatre and his skillful representation of psychopathology combine with great impact.

The setting here is truly worth a nod as well. The Garage Theatre is tiny and has pretty extreme limitations. The scenic designer Yuri Okahana-Benson reoriented the seating diagonally to optimize the angle of the extent walls and then in a stroke of genius, painted the set on the black walls in white line work evoking blueprints.

Which leads me to plans. Our plans for our lives. Our plans for our children's lives. Some are elaborate and detailed. Others may be nothing more than an idea scribbled on a napkin, merely a half thought.

"A Wolf's Mother" brilliantly excavates the lives of these famous yet mysterious figures and goes a long way to revealing what happens when life is built, at first, on faulty foundations.

"A Wolf's Mother" continues through Oct. 20 at The Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Oct. 20.

“Groovy Thursday,” Oct. 17, tickets are $15. Tickets are $25 general admission, $18 students/seniors/military, at  www.panndoraproductions.com.

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