The Taming of the Shrew, Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Shakespeare’s play can only be understood backward: not until Kate’s final speech preaching wifely docility is it clear whether the director intends a parable about reaping what you’ve sown, a cartoon battle of the sexes, or a recipe for domestic violence. By the end, have Kate and Petruchio fallen in love and conspired to make conventional couples look silly by enacting a charade of command and obedience? Or is Kate, after a taste of her own foul-tempered medicine, simply offering a public pledge of future pleasantness? Or is being married against your will and then tortured and humiliated self-evidently funny?

David H. Bell’s production, set in Italy in the early 1960s, raises but doesn’t answer these questions. His concept is terrific, suggesting lots of movies about Italians and/or the period–La dolce vita, Roman Holiday, even The Wild One. Paparazzi are everywhere, highlighting questions of appearance and reality. The sexual energy runs high between Kate Fry as Kate and Ryan Shively as Petruchio, suggesting that their battle is a mating dance. They get excellent support from Guy Adkins, channeling Mr. Magoo as a masquerading servant. But the laughter-filled beginning turns to a painfully earnest end when Kate delivers her speech in the groveling way most likely to alienate contemporary audiences. Bell isn’t obliged to indulge our prejudices, but he should be consistent, and this scene seems to belong to some other production. Thus does a fizzy evening fizzle out.