Last Summer Mike Tyson's one-man play began a brief but impressive run of sold out performances on Broadway billed as Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth.
Now six months later, the same Spike Lee directed show is on a 10-week nationwide tour.
Tyson backed out of some tour dates including his scheduled stop in my heralded city of Houston. This unexpected cancellation made me all the more grateful that I ventured out to New York City last August to peep his Broadway debut.
The prizefighter that sports pundits once pronounced "The Baddest Man on the Planet" enraptured patrons in the packed Longacre Theater with bewildering tales of violence, vulgarity, and sexual intrigue.
Tyson is no stranger to filling seats. The prizefighter generated his share of sold out performances throughout his Hall of Fame boxing career.
His unpredictability fueled his marketability.
The fast and furious heavyweight had devastating knockout power in both hands so any blow could seal his opponent's fate. His bouts could go the distance or be done in ninety seconds. With his explosive punching combinations and mercurial temperament, you never quite knew what to expect. He could finish off a foe with a barrage of devastating punches, or lose his cool and bite off a chunk of his opponent's ear.
His action-packed bouts were theater of the unexpected.
The champion's capers outside the ring were equally capricious. Tyson could offer somber introspection in one post-fight interview, and fire off grandiose claims of imperturbability in another. Tyson ended perhaps his most enigmatic diatribe declaring both praise to Allah and desire to eat children in the same inscrutable sentence.
Years removed from his thrilling fights and perplexing shenanigans, Tyson's penchant for the peculiar found itself center stage last summer facing Broadway's raconteur par excellence.
The opening night audience featured patrons of a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Tyson's monologue was correspondingly folkloric, offering playful impersonations of Puerto Rican gangstas, Staten Island Italians, and an Afrocentric black-nationalist woman he once dated. The champ also repeatedly cashed in on hip-hop mogul 50 Cent's presence in the audience to complement his discussion of ghetto tropes and urban sensibilities.
Within the first few minutes of his monologue, we learned that Tyson the thespian is no more committed to recalibrating his ruminations toward refined bourgeois tastes than Tyson the prizefighter.
His show was raw, uncivil, and deliciously decadent.
"I'm the dumbest nigger in the history of dumb niggers!" Tyson exclaimed in one of many self-deprecating moments in an expletive-laden monologue that must have garnered him the Guinness World Record for the most utterances of the notorious "N-word" in a Broadway production.
Considering the tragic elements of his autobiography, Tyson kept his show surprisingly upbeat, offering a seamless integration of urban tales, existential musings, and meticulous comedic timing. One rib-tickling reflection revealed a late 1980s incident when the menacing young pugilist caught his then estranged wife Robin Givens erotically engrossed in the back seat of her car with a relatively unknown actor named Brad Pitt.
The champ pointed out the irony of him headlining a show on the same Broadway strip where NYC's finest once arrested him during the dog days of his delinquent youth when he was terrorizing helpless pedestrians and burglarizing houses as routinely as suburban kids watch cartoons and read comic books.
Tyson's clever repartee included an improvised moment when his inadvertent arm movement transported noticeable strands of perspiration onto the audience. Rather than apologizing to the woman who caught the brunt of his liquidity, Tyson declared, "My sweat got you didn't it? I haven't got back the AIDS test yet," shocking the front-row patron and audience into raucous laughter.
While Tyson's provocative stories of street brawls, sexual encounters, and zany adventures prompted levels of mirth one might unearth at a Chris Rock concert, his monologue was not devoid of melancholy moments.
Tyson explained how the death of his mentor Cus D'Amato left him directionless and vulnerable to the requisite pressures of fame and fortune as boxing's emergent 19-year-old superstar. He expressed sheer contempt for his rape conviction, a crime he fervently denied committing. Tyson also revisited the catastrophic loss of his four-year-old daughter Exodus from an accidental strangling by the chord of a tread machine.
Tyson conjured up dark days riddled with drug overdoses and recoveries followed by more relapse. No longer occupying those dark spaces, Tyson discussed reaching full recovery enjoying life as a peaceful family man and vegan.
As far as theatrical performances go, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth was clever, courageous, and captivating. The successful opening-night extravaganza and successive string of sold out performances point us to a stirring symbiotic secret:
Broadway needed Mike Tyson as much as Mike Tyson needed Broadway.
Broadway infused Tyson's timeline with redemption and relevance; Tyson infused Broadway's tapestry with Brooklyn swag and urban flair. Broadway brought Tyson a new route for reinvention; Tyson brought Broadway a new range of ethnic momentum.
Broadway harnessed Tyson's volatile dynamism with discipline and structure; Tyson transcended Broadway's conventionalism with colorful discourse and political incorrectness.
Hence, Broadway and Tyson made surprisingly synergistic bedfellows.
To my fellow art enthusiasts who currently reside in cities with cancelled tour dates, I implore you to fly out to another city to capture Tyson's unforgettable dramaturgical experiment.
This provocative autobiographic monologue offers patrons the rare opportunity to inhabit creative theatrical space where art imitates life, imitating art.