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THEATER REVIEW : 'Pure as the Driven Snow': Melodrama Turned to Slush


SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — The best part of "Pure as the Driven Snow" at the Camino Real Playhouse in San Juan Capistrano is that it ends.

The second best part is that the audience is given foam-rubber "rocks" to throw at the villain, Mortimer Frothingham (Tom Snooks).

It's frustrating, however, because there are so many villains more worthy recipients of rock-throwing than Snooks, who gives this endless bore one of its few funny characterizations.

For one, there's the playwright of this awful melodrama, Paul Loomis. Then there's the director, Tom Scott, who seems so in love with this misbegotten creation that he lengthens it to a deadly 2 hours and 35 minutes with an interlude of songs, sung off-key, that have nothing to do with the show's plodding plot.

South Orange County Community Theatre picked this show because it had a Western flavor that supposedly complements San Juan Capistrano's annual Swallows' Days festivities. Good choice: After the first half hour, the thought of being stuck in parade traffic starts to sound like an attractive alternative.

"Pure as the Driven Snow" is the story of Purity Dean (Nanci Fast), a pure-as-the-driven-snow heroine working-girl, who captures the heart of Leander Longfellow (Roger Manning), the hard-working manager of a pickle factory.

Purity loves Leander, just as Leander loves Purity. Alas, Purity has a secret that keeps her from marrying Leander. Enter villain Mortimer Frothingham, who wants Purity to marry him while he goes on trying to steal money and babies and genuinely ruin the lives of everyone around him.

There are 10 more characters, but the story essentially consists of the Purity-and-Leander passion and the Frothingham schemes in various convolutions.

The acting ranges from shameless hamming to OK, with Snooks turning in the best work as the villain. The painted set by Tom Scott is serviceable, and the pretty costumes by Diane Green are a welcome visual relief. The musical support by Ed and Betty Matovich, who interact with the cast, would be funnier if it wasn't overdone--like everything else about this painful production.

"Pure as the Driven Snow," Camino Real Playhouse, 31776 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Saturday matinees, 2 p.m. Ends March 27. $10. (714) 489-8082. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes. Bev Brezden-Toney: Zamah Logan Ted Weiner: Jonathan Logan Jill Rollands: Mrs. Ethelinda Hewlitt Heather Bolton: Alison Hewlitt Roger Manning: Leander Longfellow Nanci Fast: Purity Dean Tom Snooks: Mortimer Frothingham Kevin Dudley: Jed Lunn J. Levi Knapp-Rustemyer: Eric Z. Pickens Heidi Hatmaker-Bleick: Imogene Pickens Janet Lee: Faith Hogue T.B. Anno: Letty Barbar Toni Reynolds: Nellie Morris

A South Orange County Community Theatre production of Paul Loomis' play. Directed by Tom Scott. Lights: Michelle Evans. Sound: Jeffrey Kaylor. Set: Tom Scott. Costumes: Diane Green. Music and sound effects: Ed and Betty Matovich. Stage manager: Christel Grissmer.

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