I figured I would post back for posterity sake because I was able to solve this issue. It turns out that the issue was in fact related to the graphics drivers. For some reason, hardware acceleration was disabled (or corrupted, or somehow mucked up in general). Snow Leopard does not tell you if hardware acceleration (QE/CI) is enabled in the System Profiler, but if you suspect that you have issues related to hardware acceleration you can quickly check by typing the following into a command window:
glxinfo | grep 'direct rendering'
and if all is well, you should see:
direct rendering: yes
If you see 'no' or nothing at all, then your hardware acceleration is most likely disabled or broken.
I didn't know how to enable hardware acceleration or fix the graphics drivers, so I just went with the quick and dirty method of a system re-install. I didn't format the disk so everything as far as installed programs and settings was left pretty much intact.
My Snow Leopard install is now humming along quite nicely
I hope this helps someone else.