Tyson vs. Ali

Charles Isherwood in the NYTimes:

TysonFor all its physical exuberance — the actors often appear to pummel one another with an intensity that you half expect to draw blood — Mr. Farrington’s approach to the material is primarily cerebral, inspired by his fascination with the psychology of boxing and boxers. Divided into thematic “rounds” (“Beauty and Brutality,” “Endurance/Strategy”), the text employs speeches from interviews and news conferences Ali and Tyson gave, but there’s little in the way of standard information conveyed about the victories, setbacks and scandals of their careers. Mr. Farrington is more interested in the men’s psyches — at times surprisingly similar, despite their very different boxing styles — rather than in their historical achievements and the arcs of their lives.

The four performers try only vaguely to impersonate either Ali or Tyson. Mr. Casey bears a nominal resemblance to Ali, and nails his blustery braggadocio. When they are portraying Tyson, the actors sometimes mimic his oddly endearing, whispery lisp. But if you spend too much time trying to figure out who’s who at any given moment, you’re likely to miss the larger point of the show, which is to excavate the drives, fears and obsessions that race around the heads of boxers before, during and after they meet in the ring.

There are, of course, differences in how each of these two celebrated fighters met the challenges of a brutal game that often involves almost as much psychological warfare as it does physical interaction. “I want him to be the hero,” Ali says, speaking of his opponent. “I want everybody to cheer him, and I want them all to boo me … I always love to be the underdog, the bad man. He’s the good American boy, and I’m the bad boy.”

Ali used that kind of me-against-the-world attitudinizing to pump himself up, but also to disarm opponents, who would then be taken by surprise when the underdog started to bite with unerring aim. We hear Tyson evincing a more conflicted and complex version of the prefight mind-set: “When I come out, I have supreme confidence,” he says, but then follows this Ali-like statement with a seeming contradiction: “I’m totally afraid. I’m afraid of everything. I’m afraid of losing. I’m afraid of being humiliated.

Read more here.