NKU YES Fest: “New Year’s Eve at the Stop-N-Go”

The setting is December 31, 1999, when Y2K was on everyone’s mind and conspiracy theories about the end of the world abounded.

By Sherry McCamley, Guest Reviewer

The new play, New Year’s Eve at the Stop-N-Go, by Samantha Oty, is being presented as part of Northern Kentucky University’s YES Festival. NKU’s new play festival is the oldest collegiate new-play festival in the country, and this is their 20th anniversary.

New Year’s Eve is directed by Mike King, and features some very talented NKU students in the acting ensemble. The setting is December 31, 1999, when Y2K was on everyone’s mind and conspiracy theories about the end of the world abounded. The entire play takes place in a sorry-looking convenience store in a small town in Michigan, where everyone knows everyone and not many young people seem to escape what they see as the dreariness of small town living. 

The action revolves around a young man named Austin, played by the excellent Timothy Belton. Austin is a clerk at the Stop-N-Go, stuck working New Year’s Eve instead of going to a big party with his friends Jimmy (Jordan Whittaker) and Swearsky (Payton Trout). Jimmy was a popular hellraiser in high school, a good-time Charlie who seems to have no direction in life these days other than partying and getting high; Swearsky is the good-natured friend to both Jimmy and Austin, who just goes with the flow and wants to have fun without anyone getting hurt. Both Whittaker and Trout have a real handle on these characters, and play them with sincerity and authenticity. Jimmy’s sister, Mary Jane (played spot-on by the cute but savvy Bunny Dolezal), is also Austin’s love interest, an unwelcome surprise to Jimmy.  As the evening wears on, various friends and acquaintances of Austin’s visit the Stop-N-Go, mostly out of boredom or for the purpose of trying to get Austin to close the store (it’s the only thing open this New Year’s Eve) and come party with them. Austin, however, has a bit more maturity than most of his compatriots, and wants to be responsible – he even dreams of going to college, a fact that Jimmy reacts to with dismay and astonishment. During the play, we see romances hinted at, arguments made, secrets revealed, and futures discussed.  

The director has made good use of these young but strong actors. Hannah Beaven as Austin’s young mother wants a life of her own but also wants a better life for her son. Barrett Minks as the annoying “friend” Eric and Sabrina Mack as Austin’s former girlfriend Jennifer are also strong and well-cast in their roles.

The playwright, Samantha Oty, has done a great job of making her characters real and not cliched, and I appreciated the fact that the director encouraged the student actors to take their time and make the work authentic – not rush through lines as young actors sometimes do. As with any play about young people, there’s a lot of drama, but also a lot of laugh-out-loud humor, which the entire audience enjoyed.

New Year’s Eve at the Stop-N-Go also runs this Thursday, April 14, 7:30PM; Sat. April 16, 7:30PM; and Sun., April 17, 2:00PM. Tickets are available through the NKU Box Office and NKU website.

Sherry McCamley, Special Guest Reviewer Emeritus, is a multi-talented local musician, theatre director, musical director, and lover of all thing theatrical. She is one of the creators of “She’s Crazy:the Musical” the touring show about mental health.

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