'Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth' Shows Off The Softer, Weirder Side Of The Boxing Great
There is more to boxing great and controversial celebrity Mike Tyson's than just TKOs and prize fighting. What you ask? Try gazelle metaphors, sci-fi references, and Mitt Romney hang-ups. In his one-man show, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, playing at Pantages this weekend Tyson reveals intimate details about his life, celebrity, and childhood. The production, directed by Spike Lee, penned by Kiki Tyson, and performed by Mike Tyson himself, is undoubtedly a must-see for boxing aficionados that will be given an unapologetic, often humorous entre into the mind and life of a fighting legend.
For scrutinizing seasoned theatre-goers, the production is certainly not a masterpiece (not that it claims to be), but it is a compelling stage-piece. Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth bears the markers of a production that is not delivered by a professional actor, but that is part of its charm. Attendees can expect to witness a larger-than life primary source warmly discuss the paradigms and chance-circumstances that, quite literally through through sheer brute force, made Tyson who he is. Set to a backdrop of Lee's nostalgic, but fascinating photos and film, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth is a raw, eye-opening look at the opposing dichotomies of an extraordinary life.
Seasoned theatre goers probably stopped reading this review at the phrase "one-man show" because Los Angeles gets more than its fare share of self-indulgent one-man (or woman) theatrical productions that decry bad childhoods, drugs, addiction, rehab, and of course, eventual full-circle redemptive delivery via biopic stage production. We get so many of these productions that they have become the nag of our local theatre community—one that is frequently avoided for the simple fact that it sucks to sit through what essentially boils down to a therapy session for the performer.
Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, however, is quite different from the run-of-the-mill solo sob-story. Yes, Tyson talks about an impoverished childhood and drugs and prison and violence and rehab and the whole gamut of tragedy, including the deaths of several beloved family members. But what makes Tyson's performance inherently different is that he isn't self-pitying or whiny or looking for acceptance. He works the stage warmly and graciously, wholly unfettered by pretentiousness. Tyson's delivery is not perfect, but his uniquely-honed personality shines through an undeniable stage presence marked by humor and earnest simplicity.
The biographic script follows a simple chronological birth-to-present timeline that makes ample room for the Tyson to reminisce and reveal otherwise unknown sentiments. The narrative moves well and Tyson's tells a good story. Highlights include his lithe impressions of what he calls 'Pre-Matrix Brad Pitt' (essentially, what Tyson believes Pitt was like prior to knowing that he is in reality in a Matrix-style matrix) Don King, Mitt Romney and gazelles. He waxes beautifully over his life in Brownsville as a child, trainer Cus D'Amato, his family, and getting a visit from Mrs. Brady (Florence Henderson) while in prison for a rape conviction. Stark contrasts emerge that pit wealth against poverty; love against hate; and socially-sanctioned fighting against unsanctioned violence. It is hard not to ponder post-show the incongruent quandary of the crazed reputation that precedes Tyson to the stage after seeing how he adoringly coos over his pet pigeons -- fragile creatures that are unlovingly dismissed by most.
Staging elements are few for this production. There is no playbill or set to speak of beyond Lee's lovely montages, but Tyson's personality is big enough to fill the stage-space sans accessories. Lee's direction is modest, minimalist, and always lets Tyson's gift for story-telling lead the performance.