A quarter century has flown since the Royal Shakespeare Company’s acrobatic, dazzling white A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Peter Brook, illuminated the comedy’s youth and rejuvenated the Auditorium Theatre. A generation later, the RSC burnishes its reputation with Adrian Noble’s incandescent, rainbow-laden staging. With its swarms of amber, tear-shaped hanging bulbs and its Magritte-like fairy bower, this Dream is just that, a three-hour triumph of stage illusion. And this is a script that must have the power to deceive: the fairy spell cast over the impetuous lovers and clowns must also be cast over the audience. Ilona Sekacz’s delicate pop score is mesmerizing, but in this kinetic second coming the “dream” is often a nightmare. Exposing the volatility of untested love, this staging offers burning proof of “how quickly bright things come to confusion.” Of course we expect angry ardors to consume the mixed-up lovers, their mythological protectors, and the rampaging fairies. But even Desmond Barrit’s magnificent Bottom is poleaxed by passion–and, in contrast to past versions, it lasts well beyond his “dream.” The actors’ awesome technical range contributes to a remarkable grasp of character and consistency. A sense of wonder pervades the play: Alex Jennings’s magisterial Oberon is no more astonished by his power to divert “the course of true love” than Mark Letheren’s effeminate bellows mender is delighted to play the star-crossed Thisbe. Best of all, Emily Raymond’s Helena reads the proverbial Book of Love in a dozen languages. Together they achieve a near-perfect dream. Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe, 902-1500. Through February 18: Thursday, 7:30 PM; Friday, 8 PM, Saturday, 2 and 8 PM; Sunday, 3 PM. $22.50-$50.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.