SUN THEATER CRITIC Published on August 24, 1998© 1998- The BaltimoreSun The final three productions of the 1998 Baltimore Playwrights Festival opened within the same week, heralding the opening of two new theater companies as well. In Mark Scharf’s The Mean Reds, at the Vagabond Players, Mike Drennon is suffering from a mixture of anger, resentment and depression. It’s his birthday, and his wife — an alcoholic he helped through recovery — has left him. No wonder he has the mean reds. Scharf’s play follows Mike through the course of the day, as assorted friends and family attempt to cheer him up. It’s not an easy task, especially since Mike is loath to give up the mean reds (a phrase that surfaces more than necessary). “Anger is the only thing that’s keeping me going,” insists Russell Wooldridge’s Mike, whose actions — such as taking off his wedding ring and pounding it with a hammer — convey that anger, though the actor’s manner often seems more resigned than seething. Scharf has tacked on an oversimplified conclusion, but in other respects the playwright doesn’t shy away from showing that alcoholism, recovery and marital discord are messy, complicated problems. One of the best examples is the character of Rose, Mike’s wife. Rose could easily be dismissed as the villain of the piece, and indeed, her unwillingness to discuss her point of view with Mike, as well as her seeming lack of concern for her children, brand her as selfish. However, as written by Scharf and portrayed by Janise Bonds, Rose has a degree of sweetness, almost an innocence. But that innocence comes with blinders. She’s so caught up in her recovery program, she can’t see beyond her own welfare and has forsaken her responsibility to others. Director Bill Kamberger makes good use of the four acting areas in designer Dan Bursi’s set, at times presenting simultaneous action. He also elicitssincere performances from his cast, particularly Stephen Downes as Mike’s frustrated best friend and Anne B. Mulligan as Mike’s concerned, well-meaning mother, a family court judge who’s seen it all and still believes everything works out for the best.