April 18, 2013
By Kenya Vaughn
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American
If there were ever a true story that could hold the attention of an audience for nearly two hours without an intermission, it would be that of boxing icon-turned punch line-turned-professional entertainer Mike Tyson.
Since he became a pop culture phenomenon nearly 30 years ago, he has gone from the pinnacle to the pits and back again as the world watched. Last year he decided to give his side of the story in front of an audience – while forging a new career path outside of the ring. And Over the weekend Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth made its way to St. Louis for a one-night run at the Peabody Opera House.
Written by his wife Kiki Tyson and directed by Spike Lee, Tyson took the crowd – which obviously consisted mostly of diehard fans – on a journey that starts with his birth at a hospital in Brownsville, Brooklyn and a boxing career that began when he was barely a teenager.
Through his narrative, they learn the explicit details of what most of the audience already knew – that Tyson was forced to grow up harsh, and in a hurry.
What they may not have known – or expected – is that Tyson is able to look back at most of his experiences and laugh now that the lessons have finally soaked in.
Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth was filled with profanity and styled in the likes of urban comedy circuit bits that use laughter as medicine for real-life pain. Not even his birth certificate was safe as he pondered who the man whose last name he bears – a man who Tyson says is by no means his father.
At its best moments the production is charming and forges an even deeper connection with the audience that curiously waited to see what Tyson would expose during his portrayal of himself as his own past and present.
He shamelessly turned the punch lines around on himself and others forever tied to Tyson’s tumultuous cautionary tale – like Robin Givens, her mother and former boyfriend Brad Pitt, Don King and his accuser Desiree Washington. And he fearlessly embraced unlikely elements of the show – including choreographed moments that ranged from ballet, to booty popping and roundhouse kicks – one couldn’t help but root for Tyson as he appeared to have come full circle from the raging boxing machine he was once believed to be.
The show was not without its weak links, however. Most notably was Tyson’s inability to slow down and lean into the story he was telling. Plenty of moments within the play felt rushed and stumbled over as Tyson struggled to fight distraction – and nerves – throughout the performance.
Another shortcoming of the show was the story itself. What could have been a streamlined transcendence from tragedy to triumph was poorly transitioned and disproportionate with respect to the ostentatious elements of Tyson’s life experiences.
For example, an after-hours street brawl with mouthy fighter Mitch Green was given more attention to detail than the moment in which Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in the history of boxing.
His run ins with the law, short stay in a mental hospital and his rehab visit were giving higher billing than the spiritual enlightenment and life makeover that would ultimately give him the strength and courage to publicly combat his demons on stage – and learn not to take himself too seriously.
A more balanced approach to his experiences that showcase his personal growth – would have been a welcomed addition, and more accurate portrayal of Tyson’s truth.
But even in the monologues lopsided with humor at Tyson’s expense, viewers were at least exposed to his dedication to upholding the legacy of his mentor and father figure Cus D’Amato, and honoring his family (and the memory of his mother, sister and daughter Exodus) by way of his choices in the next phase of his life.