By Mark Kennedy
There is apparently a threat by someone on Twitter to execute a shooting rampage at the Broadway theater that's playing "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth." This has added something sadly lacking in Tyson's one-man show: any sense of drama.
The former champion boxer and convicted rapist promises at the beginning of his odd and pathetic show, which mercifully ends its run Sunday at the Longacre Theatre, that he'll offer the unvarnished truth of his tortured life. What actually comes out sounds more like a press release written by someone else.
"I know many of you are probably wondering, 'What the hell is Mike Tyson going to do up here onstage tonight?'" he asks. "Well, frankly, I'm wondering the same thing, too."
The two-hour show, directed in a paint-by-numbers style by Spike Lee, doesn't really come to an answer about that. Nothing new or very interesting is revealed, and the stage hasn't been turned into a place for deep thinking. Maybe that's because it was written not by Tyson, but by his wife, Kiki, who got him sober and apparently convinced him that this embarrassment of a show would work.
"Really can't complain these days. I'm really grateful things have come full circle for me," he says, somewhat unconsciously mournful. "I'm pretty domesticated now."
The show traces Iron Mike's rise from violent street hood in Brooklyn to a fearsome athlete. Then comes the fall — prison inmate, tabloid target, cocaine and Evander Holyfield's delicious ear. (He admits he wanted to title the performance "Boxing, Bitches and Lawsuits.")
First wife Robin Givens and ex-manager Don King are excoriated. Kiki Tyson, not surprisingly, comes off angelic. As does trainer Cus D'Amato, a father figure as much as an adviser, who fed him with the thirst for success. The account of the accidental death of his 4-year-old daughter, Exodus, is heartbreaking. But unlike shows by masters of the genre — John Leguizamo, for instance — this is a string of anecdotes leading nowhere.
When the audience arrives, the Longacre has been turned into a dance club, with DJ Clark Kent spinning mostly Jay-Z from a box. The inside of the theater has been lazily decorated by Tim Mackabee with what looks like homemade banners from Brooklyn neighborhoods. (Carroll Gardens? Really?)
Projections of photos and videos accompany Tyson's soliloquies without adding much. Lee didn't feel it necessary to find much archive footage. So when Tyson is talking about his tough childhood home, the screen is filled with a nice-looking complex — it's the new one built over the slum. (Lee shakes his camera to make it look ominous, but it's futile.)
The stocky boxer opens the show seated in the dark as Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" plays, presumably to highlight the lyrics, "The greatest thing you'll ever learn/ Is just to love and be loved in return."
"I promise if you listen and you really trust me, you'll leave here with both ears tonight," Tyson vows. The theater is half-empty and it soon gets emptier. Not everyone wants an earful of drivel. (Plus, there's more interesting things outside, like a police car in case the Twitter threat turns real.)
There's a funny story about Brad Pitt, who showed up one day as Givens' date while Tyson was still sleeping with her. The actor apparently looked pretty freaked out to see the muscular boxer. There's another rambling tale about Tyson fighting fellow boxer Mitch Green while his rival was on angel dust (he never stayed down).
Tyson denies raping 18-year-old Rhode Island beauty queen Desiree Washington. "I deserved to be punished for all the pain and humiliation I caused plenty of women. But I didn't deserve the punishment I got from this women," he says. That inexplicably leads to a funny story about Florence Henderson visiting him in prison.
It's clear that Tyson is not a natural stage presence. He actually seems like a changed man and a sweet one, too, but his high voice and mumbling make it hard to hear even — if you wanted to. He stumbles over words like "scrotum" and "abstinence" and blames Lee for salting the show with words to make him look smart.
But the fact that it's not in his own words just makes him look like a puppet with others pulling the strings — the very thing he complains about throughout his hard-knock life.
It's no contest: Tyson beaten by Broadway in a quick TKO.