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John Durang: Man of the American Stage By Lynn Matluck Brooks

Chapter 1:  Mise-en-Scène
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John Durang:

Chapter 1


Monday, 5 October 1767: the ship Sally docked at Philadelphia carrying among its passengers Jacob Durang, just released from service in the French Army’s medical corps. A French soldier for twelve years in the Régiment Suisse de Waldner in service to King Louis XV, Jacob was assigned to the medical corps, where, according to his son’s Memoir, “he made some proficiency in the skill and knowledge of surgeory”3 (3)—skills that would serve him handily in his new life. Like many others, Jacob Durang and his pregnant wife, Joeann Catharine Arter, chose emigration from war-torn Alsace to the New World promising freedoms and opportunities unavailable in the Europe they left.

It is unlikely, in the confusion of arrival, that the Durangs noticed the opening, on Tuesday, 6 October 1767, of the “American Company”—a largely British troupe—for a brief autumn season at Philadelphia’s Southwark Theatre (see fig. 1). It is even less likely that the Durangs would have remarked the appearance a few days later of the first American known to have acted professionally, Samuel Greville.4 Greville’s brief stage career would be eclipsed in length, variety, and dedication