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Show Cast Presents Blast From the Past

* 'Capistrano,' to be performed nightly at the mission, offers a glimpse into the city's crucial role in state history.

August 03, 2000|PAMELA DIAMOND

Guests took a trip down memory lane Friday evening while strolling the cobblestoned paths of Mission San Juan Capistrano.

The mission's lovely gardens and courtyards were the setting for an opening-night wine-and-dessert reception before the Mission Pageant Foundation's second annual production of "Capistrano."

The two-part musical drama--which runs through Sunday--chronicles the power-play dynamics in the lives of early Californians at the mission, from European conquerors to Jesuit priests and Native Americans. But the pre-performance party site drew a few reminiscences.

"The party tonight is a way of saying thanks to all the people from the community and our corporate sponsors who have rallied around us," said Foundation Executive Director Peggy Goldwater Clay, watching as U.S. Marines from Camp Pendleton ushered guests into the mission grounds.

'A Kinder, Gentler Time'

Some of the nearly 300 guests slipped into a nearby courtyard, where simple white tablecloths, candlelight and a burbling fountain proved the perfect foil for views of arched cloisters beyond the walls. There they sipped glasses of Melange du Rhone Rouge and Sauvignon Blanc, donated by Fess Parker's vineyard, and sampled mouthwatering sweets including miniature mocha creme bru^lee provided by the Hyatt Regency Irvine.

Others were lured outside by the dusky hues of tranquil twilight gardens, like Foundation Contributors Richard and Laura Lee Browne of Newport Beach, who paused for a moment under the jutting ruins of the Great Stone Church to reflect on a "kinder, gentler time."

"Visiting the mission takes us back to great old California. Fifty years ago, when it was still so rural, it was a wonderful place to grow up," Richard Browne said. "What the Mission Pageant Foundation has planned for restoration is a major undertaking, but we feel it's very important to preserve all this."

'Social and Cultural Center of State'

Dress for the evening was California casual, so Rusty Richards' Stetson fit right in. A member of Roy Rogers' musical group The Sons of Pioneers, Richards used to train horses in the area and considers the mission "home ground."

"My dad used to bring my brother and me to Mass here every week when we were kids," said Richards, recalling early days when a local farmer, Clarence Brown, hauled adobe bricks from Los Angeles in an old truck to help restore the mission's crumbling walls.

"I'd love to see this pageant really catch on and become a major event. It would not only be good for the community, but it's culturally right."

Said Foundation President Harvey Smith: "I'm very emphatic about promoting this message of early California culture to our children. In the early 19th century, San Juan Capistrano was the social and cultural center of the state. 'Capistrano' celebrates that diversity of cultures, which is carried through in its cast as well as the story line."

This is the first year "Capistrano" is being performed at the mission, said Clay, who hopes to seat 3,500 people over the play's eight-night run. "We brought it here for more intimacy, but I think it really belongs here. The characters on stage match real people in its history; this is its home."

"Capistrano" will be performed nightly at 8 p.m. onstage inside Mission San Juan Capistrano. For Pageant information: (714) 979-1190.

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