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Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth

It's hard to say whether the former boxing champion's monologue is really the beginning of a new chapter in Tyson's life, the epilogue to a story that has finally been told to the teller's satisfaction, or a little bit of both.

By New York City
Mike Tyson
(© David Gordon)
Mike Tyson
(© David Gordon)
Before entering the Longacre Theatre, driven somewhat by morbid curiosity and somewhat by professional duty (and not, I should note, by a press ticket), I suspected that it was too many punches to the head that led former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson to take the stage and air (or should one say, re-air) his decidedly dirty laundry in his solo show Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, which has arrived on Broadway for a limited run.

And yet after listening to Tyson's somewhat rambling, remarkably profane, and frequently vitriolic two-hour apologia/confessional -- credited to his wife, Kiki, and no doubt, abetted by his director, Spike Lee -- I sincerely believe Tyson wants, as he says more than once, for his audience to leave with a better understanding of who he is and how he got to where he is today. Still, I remain unconvinced whether doing the show accomplishes his goal -- or was even really a good idea.

Tyson does come off as quite funny, even charming, although not someone I'd want to have dinner with (and not just for fear of leaving without part of my ear). But in relating his past -- the show concentrates primarily on the first 25 years of his life -- Tyson doesn't so much seem to be telling a cautionary tale as almost reveling in his mistakes.

While there's little doubt he had a hard, poverty-filled childhood in Brooklyn, it doesn't really excuse becoming a robber at age 10 and continuing to commit criminal acts even after he became a successful prizefighter. Yes, I believe him when he says he did not rape Desiree Washington in Indiana, despite his conviction (and even though he offers up no real evidence to dispute her claim), and I also believe him when he says he often mistreated women.

And I have little doubt he was taken advantage of by his former manager Don King, whom Tyson clearly (and understandably) despises, even if I wonder if he shouldn't have just paid a bit more attention to his finances and business dealings.

Most obviously, I feel for the many losses in his life -- his mother, his sister, who died at age 25, and especially his daughter, Exodus, who died tragically at age 4. He also admits he's not sure who his biological father really is, which is enough to mess with anyone's head.

But Tyson doesn't really do himself any favors by being so vicious about the actions of his ex-wife Robin Givens (true or otherwise) and her mother, Ruth. Instead, the rant merely comes off as ungentlemanly at best and misogynistic at worst.

And while some of his admirers -- especially the younger men in the audience -- cheered repeatedly during a long section about his offstage battling with fellow fighter Mitch Green (no saint, either), these tales of unnecessary violence merely made me (and I imagine at least a few others) simply uncomfortable.

No matter one's personal feelings about the entire presentation, Tyson does owe Lee thanks for not only guiding him through the spotlight, but for enlivening the production -- starting with a pre-show DJ (loud but mood-setting) and including the many still photos and video projections that accompany the monologue.

It's rather hard to say whether Undisputed Truth is really the beginning of a new chapter in Tyson's life, the epilogue to a story that has finally been told to the teller's satisfaction, or a little bit of both. But should you want to hear it for yourself, it's here for the hearing.


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