THE FOLGER'S "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a playfully acted and a visual delight. As wittily directed by John Neville-Andrews, this dippy "Dream" concludes with a riotous play-within-a-play which alone is worth the price of admission.
Shakespeare engineers a dizzy confluence of improbable plots -- four mismatched lovers flee to the enchanted woods near Athens, where Oberon, king of the fairies, is pulling jealous pranks on his queen, Titania. Meanwhile, a hapless troupe of bumpkins bumbles through a sorry skit about the legend of Pyramus and Thisbe.
As one of the mortal lovers, Lysander, says, the course of true love never did run smooth, and it's in for an especially bumpy ride here, what with the mischievous Oberon (archly played by Edward Gero) and his sidekick Puck dropping aphrodisiac juice into everybody's eyes, literally blinding them all with love.
All the daffy doings aside, Shakespeare's play contains some of his most elevated poetry within an intriguing structure. Moving from the rational world of the mortals, written in blank verse, through the woods of the fairies and their lilting verse, Shakespeare returns us in the end to the waking world, where the magic seems to have had a beneficial effect.
Lewis Folden's abstract set allows the mind's eye to conjure the world of the court and the woods. The agile actors bounce about the multilevel platforms, a playground of curving wooden slopes like rollercoaster rails, over which looms an enormous glowing moon that winks and grimaces thanks to some clever projections.
As costumed by Elizabeth Covey, the pastel- colored fairies seem to have popped out of a Maxfield Parrish poster, topped with cotton- candy wigs and decoratively perched in angle- limbed "Cats" crouches.
Director Neville-Andrews keeps the "Dream" nimble, and has a lively cast to work with. Particularly good are Alessandro Cima and Rita Litton as Demetrius and Helena, playing pursuer and pursued and then vice versa. Litton's willowy Helena enjoys the role of helpless woman, unable to speak without a sigh; Cima aptly captures Demetrius' exasperation which melts into helpless adoration with the help of a squirt of love juice.
Neville-Andrews' skill with comedy is exceptionally evident in the hysterical burlesque at play's end. In sketching this "tedious brief scene of young Pyramus and his love Thisbe," Shakespeare satirizes the efforts of players and directors, and Neville-Andrews, who has apparently experienced all variations on this theme, adds funny flesh to the "tragical mirth."
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM -- At the Folger Theater through June 30.