Review: We Double Dare You Not to Be Moved By The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers

The Nickelodeon and Food Network host stars in an interactive, biographical play written by Alex Brightman.

Marc Summers welcomes members of the audience onstage in The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers, directed by Chad Rabinovitz, at New World Stages.
(© Russ Rowland)

For anyone who has ever dreamed of slipping down a slide of whipped cream or getting a pie in the face to win a trip to Space Camp, there’s ultimate wish fulfillment happening in The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers, now playing at New World Stages. Summers hosted several successful television shows on the Food Network (including Unwrapped) but is best known as Nickelodeon’s brand ambassador of the 90s as presenter of Double Dare, which set the network’s tone of kid-centered, messy, slimy fun. He’s also one of the earliest examples of a celebrity being open about mental health, as he publicly announced he has OCD when such a thing was taboo. Nostalgia abounds in this show, but it’s also an unexpected reminder of a darker time.

Combining monologues alongside audience participation in game show “physical challenges,” Life and Slimes delivers on the promise of its name. If you are knocking on the door of middle age and had cable TV as a kid, everything you can imagine happening in this show, does. Audience members compete against each other for fabulous prizes in slimy, chaotic competitions, as fellow fans scream and cheer with delight from their seats. Summers excels in these moments, seamlessly guiding the players through the gameshow mechanisms while tossing in a touch of NSFW humor that was verboten for most of his career.

Marc Summers presides over physical challenges in The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers, directed by Chad Rabinovitz, at New World Stages.
(© Russ Rowland)

In between challenges, Summers recounts his life from birth to the present, charting his rise to game show fame and later struggles, including a debilitating car accident and bouts of cancer. Alex Brightman’s script and Chad Rabinovitz’s direction make the tonal shifts from silly to serious flow naturally, generally avoiding clunky transitions. A standout among the small supporting cast is Mike Nappi, whose versatility and vibrancy is a highlight of the production and keeps the show buoyant.

This play is obviously designed to appeal to Millennials and their kids, and it succeeds, with a few caveats. It’s recommended for ages 10 and older, and while there’s nothing particularly objectionable aside from some blue humor, the more serious content is not likely to grab the attention of younger kids. Sequences with a stalker that represents Summers’s OCD might be scary or confusing for those at that age, as it’s not always clear that the danger is only in his mind. People who missed Double Dare, like Gen Xers who were too old to be interested but too young to have children, might feel left out. It doesn’t go into detail about Summers’s time on the Food Network, either, so those who know him in that context also might find less to be excited about.

Marc Summers in The Life and Slimes of Marc Summmers. Photo by Russ Rowland (12)
Marc Summers stars in Alex Brightman’s The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers, directed by Chad Rabinovitz, at New World Stages.
(© Russ Rowland)

The most unexpected emotional moments come when Summers discusses his discovery of his OCD, which he has lived with since childhood but didn’t understand until he was an adult. Hearing that he lost work because he went public with the diagnosis surprised me at first, but then it reminded me of my own reaction. At the time, I didn’t know what Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder was, but I had impression that it made him dangerous to others (something I likely picked up from the press at the time). After coming to fully understand what it meant, I was confused about why compulsive cleaning made him unfit to host TV game shows. In the age of Gen Z proudly sharing things they learned in therapy on social media, it’s hard to remember a time when talking about mental health issues could lead to being “cancelled,” but Summers’s story brought me back to my own misinformed opinions.

Ultimately, The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers reminds us that the halcyon days of the ’90s had downsides. When Summers ends the play stating that this is the best time he’s had in his life, it’s believable, not because he has a show off-Broadway, but because the stigma against mental illness is much lower now thanks to people in the spotlight openly discussing it. This extra layer to Summers’s legacy adds texture to his story and makes it more than just sloppy fun – though if the fun is all audiences come for, it delivers that, too.

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