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Review: Mike Tyson a knockout in one-man show

Updated: March 18, 2013 6:20AM



Given all that he tells us during the course of his 100-minute solo show, “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” — at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre for just two nights — the indisputable miracle is that this 46-year-old man is not only still standing, but full of energy and optimism, and in possession of all his brain cells.

What’s more, Tyson turns out to be a compelling storyteller — funny, self-aware and fully capable of filling a vast stage (empty aside from the occasional projected photo or video clip), while holding a large audience at full attention in a way that many experienced actors never quite master. I confess, I was happily stunned. And if ever there were proof that American life is not only FULL of second acts — but capable of supplying at least a dirty dozen of them — this is your show of shows. Only in America.

As for its moral uplift — well, it’s a mixed bag on that count, though Tyson (with a script by his current wife, Kiki Tyson) certainly is a man in search of both setting the record straight and finding redemption.

The show opens with Tyson seated on a chair, his bald head resting in his hand, and the sound of Nat King Cole singing what might be the most incongruous of songs, “Nature Boy,” whose lyrics describe “a very strange, enchanted boy.” (I suspect that might be a canny little addition by way of director Spike Lee, who came on board when the show headed to Broadway. And it works its disarming effect.)

Tyson starts at the very beginning, with a rare photograph of his mother, who died young (of alcohol abuse, cancer, heartbreak), and a birth certificate that bears the name of a father who probably wasn’t his biological dad. Then (with just the slightest lisp that marks his speech), he describes growing up on the pre-gentrified streets of Brooklyn, his frequent visits to juvenile detention centers, his emergence as a tough guy. He also introduces us to his early mentors, both white — Bobby Stewart, a former boxer, and his beloved, grandfatherly trainer, Cus D’Amato.

Of course by age 20 Tyson was the youngest heavyweight champion in history. And his life in the ring seems far easier than his life outside it. Success brought him fame, money and all the rest, but he was still an eighth-grade dropout (though literate) — angry, naive, impulsive, self-destructive.

Tyson saves his lingering rage for a handful of people: His first wife, actress Robin Givens (and her mother); beauty queen Desiree Washington, who charged him with rape, for which he was sent to prison; and Don King, the boxing impresario who took him to the cleaners and back again.

He is more amused than angry at a former nutcase opponent, boxer Mitch Green (a story that goes on a bit too long). He is happily reconciled with Evander Holyfield, despite the infamous ear bite scandal. He tells surprising stories about Florence Henderson (of “The Brady Bunch”), briefly touches on his introduction to Islam in prison, confesses his cocaine habit (kicked more than four years ago). And most crucially, he ends the show by admitting that he has been remiss as a father to his eight children (one of whom died as a tot). He knows it will probably take years for the older ones to forgive him. And that, to be sure, is the undisputed truth.



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