Never Leave Nevada
1990 Directed by Steve Swartz. Starring Steve Swartz, Rodney Rincon, Katherine Catmull, Janelle Buchanan, Barbara Chisholm, Lorne Loganbill, De Lewellen.
REVIEWED By Marie Mahoney, Fri., June 14, 1991
By turns goofy and reflective, Never Leave Nevada is a quirky and intelligent comedy/drama about making do in a world perched on the brink of nuclear annihilation. This first feature from writer/director Swartz was shot mostly in Austin with an all-local cast and crew and is currently back for a return engagement. Nevada picks up an unlikely pair of peripatetic salesmen in Beatty, Nevada, a small town somewhere between Las Vegas and the largest nuclear test site in America. They're heading east, tooling across America in an old convertible hawking t-shirts and tube socks at anti-nuclear rallies. There's our narrator, Sean Kaplan (Swartz), a voluble, good-natured East Coast transplant looking for love along the country's highways and byways. His partner is Luis Ramirez (Rincon), a somewhat ill-tempered poli-sci graduate from Berkeley trying to live down his past as the child star of the oft-rerun '50s TV show, Mexican Mule Boy. Nestled in the mecca of nuclear protest, Sean and Luis meet a similarly mismatched pair of local women: Betty Gurling (Buchanan) runs a clinic which provides health care for the town's bordello; her roommate, Lou Ann Pearlstein (Catmull), moved to Nevada from her mixed-up half-Jewish home in Arkansas and now deals blackjack at a casino. What drives the narrative is the tug of war between Sean's yearning for a hearth and home with Betty -- even if he does have to share it with her husband (Loganbill) -- and Luis' love for the open road. It's a classic conflict in a decidedly off-beat format, fed by an original and never predictable imagination. Swartz's off-the-wall script is served well by Nevada's excellent cast, especially Swartz himself; he pulls off a very subtle interpretation of a character (you know, that guy who never shuts up at parties) who would have been easy to overplay. Buchanan and Catmull, two of the busiest actresses in Austin theater, make a seemingly effortless transition to the screen. Also of note are supporting performances by two other local actors: Chisholm gives a funny and spirited performance as one of the prostitutes and Loganbill shines in a couple of brief scenes as Betty's terminally ill husband. From the script to the acting to the terrific score by Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson, Never Leave Nevada is worth seeing if only for its remarkable use of homegrown talent. But don't see it just for that, see it for its new, different, and irreverent perspective on the absurdity of life in these wacky postnuclear times.