This Play Is Definitely the Worst 

It’s all a setup, in this weird comedic dystopia. Or is it? The Participants! runs through Saturday at Annex Theatre (and via livestream). 


A thoroughly uninspired sort-of office with neon spike tape all over the floor. A wayyyyyy too positive entry-level interviewer who’s decided all stupid statements are sacred. A tiny circle of survey participants either way too happy to be there or already ready to flee the scene, setting up an all-out brawl — where the investment is too shallow to be believed — before the thing even gets started. What god awful underbaked thing did I walk into? 

Settle into the play and its oddities, and it’s clear this is all a setup. Not the plot, mind you; there’s plenty of room for debate on that one. But the awfulness of the thing. The terrible characters — not one of them is particularly likable — are caricatures for a reason. And as we see how they work together (or don’t) and what forces brought them there, those caricatures begin to crumble. 

Patricia Haines-Ainsworth, M. Keala Milles, Jr., Rachel Taggart, and Dan Ruiz Salvatura perform in ‘The Participants!’ at Annex Theatre. Photo by Laura Johnston.

The cast is versatile, which allows them to cover quite a few bases as the present and backstories collide and meander. Playwright Jesse Calixto has a good intuition for comedy (and there are some great bits of that on display here), but the layers underneath the brash surface are keen ones. Director Catherine Blake Smith, former Artistic Director and longtime curator at Annex, has a strong sense of making all those layers play out on the fringe stage. There’s a lot of This shouldn’t work, but it really does going on here. 

I love a play that’s a journey. And this weird little maze has a whole lot of them. 

One of the few scenes played with over-the-top gusto that’s actually believable (dinner!) and charming and funny is also the most heartbreaking. The sequence, like the play, is a good reminder to be careful with one another. At a time when humanity burnout is real, and fuses for terribly acting people couldn’t be shorter, it couldn’t come at a better time. 

So come join Woke Crusader Rebecca (Rachel Taggart), Anti-Woke Agitator Nick (Dan Ruiz Salvatura), Bible Belt Boomer Anita (Patricia Haines-Ainsworth), and Drunken Dude-Bro Phil (M. Keala Milles, Jr.), egged on by Annoyingest Host Ever James (Yolanda Suarez), on their quest to have their voices heard for a Cold Stone gift card. What you see (and feel) might surprise you. 

The Participants! runs through 3/23 at Annex Theatre on Capitol Hill. Tickets are $5+ (pay-what-you-choose offered for all), here. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gender-neutral and single-stall; theatre is located up significant stairs, and neither venue nor restrooms are wheelchair accessible. Closing night (3/23) performance also available via livestream.

Run time: 2 hours 5 minutes with intermission  

Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of