DURHAM — Mike Tyson is no brilliant monologist. The former heavyweight champ isn't a keen mimic either. But he's had a life rife with great and funny stories that he tells with lots of self-deprecation, and that's all he needed to make his Tuesday night performance of "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth," at the Durham Performing Arts Center, a wickedly profane, entertaining and messy bit of theater.
You've got to give Tyson credit for the concept; it takes a pugilist's confidence for a novice stage performer to stand alone on stage for two hours aided only by multimedia. Yet there Tyson was, telling his story from his beginnings as the son of sweet and alcoholic Lorna Mae and well, either the Mr. Tyson listed on his birth certificate or the pimp who came by for monthly visits.
From there, he hits the highlights on his journey from Brooklyn thug to world champion. He speaks reverently of his time with mentor Cus D'Amato; he predictably trashes his marriage to actress Robin Givens, including a very funny anecdote about catching her on a booty call with Brad Pitt. He angrily recounts his rape conviction, still insisting on his innocence. And his description of his late night brawl with boxer Mitch 'Blood' Green -- that sounds like something out of "The Hangover" -- nearly brought some audience members to hysterics.
It's clear Tyson feeds off of the audience's energy, and that's good. But sometimes that quality is too good. As a boxer, Tyson had laser focus. As a stage actor, he's easily distracted; he gets so caught up in the laughs, he forgets his place and his lines. That's unfortunate, the script, written by his wife Kiki, has some nice moments. Yet, following the script doesn't always work either. At the beginning of the performance, Tyson seem relaxed, reciting the scripted words with a conversational ease. Later, perhaps because he was so loose and unfiltered when off-script, those same kind of moments sounded stilted. The physicality of the performance also tested Tyson; at times he seemed out of breath.
But none of that seemed to matter to the DPAC audience. The crowd roared with laughter, shouted out profanities of support, and gave the champ a standing ovation at the end. After all, in the end, Tyson's story is one of redemption. When he ends with an image of his late daughter (another daughter, he said, is headed to Duke), and talks of his desire to be a good father and a better person, you believe him. And you want to cheer this new kind of truth he's championing.
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