One individual event or thing usually doesn't cause a disaster: it usually is a confluence of events that go wrong to bring about a disastrous event. Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth is proof of that. In the ring, Tyson was an undisputed champion, holding the record as the youngest boxer to win the WBC, WBA and IBF world heavyweight titles and was the first to hold the WBA, WBC and IBF titles simultaneously and has been inducted in to the Boxing Hall of Fame. His life outside the ring, however, has been somewhat of a train wreck. Three marriages, seven children, a very public and messy divorce, multiple arrests, addictions; his very public life has often amplified some very personal failings.
In Undisputed Truth Tyson gets to tell his side of the story in a one man show that is funny, poignant, sad and engaging. Is it the truth? Well, we are all the heroes of our own story; seeing life through the filter of being at the center of the its universe. Akira Kurosawa's 1950s film Rashomon explore the theme that the truth is relevant to who is telling it and where they are in the story. In the film there's a murder and robbery, and a court must figure out what has happened. Witnesses are called, including ghosts, with the caveat that each is telling the absolute truth; their truth, and each witness tells a different tale of the same event.
The show stems from a documentary by Spike Lee about Tyson and Lee serves as the show's director. It was created by Adam Steck, CEO of SPI Entertainment, and is presented by James L. Nederlander, written by Kiki Tyson, executive produced by Tyson and Taylor, Steck and originally directed by Randy Johnson.
There can be no doubt that Tyson is entertaining and does a great job of making the audience laugh with him, not at him. The star-studded debut for a three-show run at the Pantages Theatre March 8-10 was filled with an appreciative and wanting audience. Charlize Theron (yup, gorgeous), Michael Jordan (taller in person), Eric Roberts, David Arquette (who looked dapper in a grey linen suit), Tito Ortiz, boxers, celebrities, the Los Angeles glitteratti were on display on a rainy Friday in the City of Angels. And some rowdy boxing fans were in the house, as Tyson dealt with fans shouting from the mezzanine in a comedic fashion. When one shouted "We still love you ever since you were 18..." Tyson retorted, "Then listen to the damned show."
Tyson has charisma, no doubt, and has a way to make the audience believe that he has the sense left to see the absurdity of much of his life and his role in it. As he opens with "Many of you may be wondering what a brain-damaged ear-biting fool like me is doing up here doing a one man show... hell, I wonder that myself every time I come out here..." It's a great ice-breaker since that is exactly what many in the audience are, in fact, thinking.
The show runs with no intermission, and needs either one or editing. While there can be no doubt it's engaging, it gets long and could use some editing or brevity. It's also very hard to understand Tyson about one-quarter of the time. He has a speech impediment already, and also may be a great boxer but has no sense of staging. He continually wiped his face from sweat, which moved his microphone and made it harder to hear. Thea Austin and I had rock star seats in the orchestra and yet sometimes Tyson's lines were lost on us. It's a shame, there's a few times they were crucial to the moment.
Also, when Tyson addresses the rape conviction there's an uneasiness. He maintains his innocence and talks about this event for under five minutes out of the 1:55 show. Yet, this is one of the truths we wanted to hear about. How, why, what... but alas, that remains secret. Instead we're treated to a list of people that visited him in jail, including Florence Henderson and Barry Williams (Mrs. and Greg Brady).
I am not a boxing fan, having never seen one complete boxing match. I find it barbaric, actually, grown men beating each other. But it's a blood sport and humans have always had them so I accept its place in our culture. I couldn't name 10 prize fighters to save my life. But I know Mike Tyson not from the ring, but from life. This show humanizes him, makes him less of a caricature, much more human. The story of his youth, fighting street life, an addictive mother, no real father (really questioning who his father was) his rise to fame through the training he started in the correctional facilities... he should be an inspirational story to millions of people like Ali, Fraiser and others. But in the TMZ pop culture world, the reality-based mentality and know-it-all press, Tyson had become a parody of himself. This play refocuses on the man, not the myth, the guy at the center of the storm and his trying to stay afloat through it all.
Does one leave with any more truth about any of the events? No, we leave with Tyson's truth about all of the events, and in his mind it is undisputed. But it is fun, entertaining, emotional... all the things a show should be. So Tyson proves again he's a great showman, able to KO an audience with his fists or a couple hours of his life. It's definitely worth seeing whenever you can catch it, be you boxing fan or simply Pop culture aficionado.