‘Duck Harbor’ from 1st Stage is a thrilling livestream ride

The 12-episode love story winds up a beautiful and joyous journey.

Duck Harbor—presented by 1st Stage as “a clever, humorous, and heartwarming story of long-distance love in later life”—was a 12-episode weekly web series in which the performers’ identities and lines were revealed live on camera. “Through this innovative series of short scenes, the audience gets to experience the magic of the theater and the excitement of new love between two lonely hearts reaching out from charming small towns on opposite sides of the country,” said 1st Stage. Duck Harbor invited the audience on a thrilling livestream ride as the scenes unfolded in real time, without a net.

Geoffrey Rivas (who appears as Mac) and Deidra LaWan Starnes (Wendy) in ‘Duck Harbor.’

The two performers, Geoffrey Rivas and Deidra LaWan Starnes were secretly cast, and neither knew who the other character would be until the moment that the scene started. To enhance the spontaneous theatrical magic, each actor was given only his/her lines in the script several days before filming, with the other’s redacted so they were unaware of each other’s text. The intent was for discovery to happen with each moment, segment, and beat as they went along for a “sincere and genuine freshness on stage,” in front of the audience.

The writers Bob Bartlett and E. M. Lewis collaborated with each other over months working through ideas and concepts to develop the scenes and episodes, serving as “writers’ rooms” for and with each other. Director Alex Levy helped to make sure that the tone, intent, and purpose come through as the script unfolded. Then it was up to the actors to find their voices using their own instincts in portraying the characters and where they were moment-to-moment with each other.

Duck Harbor unfolded and aired live in 12 episodes, each about 15 minutes, every Tuesday from June 1 to August 17, 2021. The complete series is now available at 1stStage.org with an $15 all-access pass, which includes behind-the-scenes bonus content such as exclusive interviews with the cast and creative team.

Throughout the web series, DC Theater Arts published Debbie Minter Jackson’s morning-after reviews and story updates, shown here in reverse chronological order.

Deidra LaWan Starnes as Wendy and Geoffrey Rivas as Mac in ‘Duck Harbor,’ episode 12. DCMTA screenshot.

Episode #12

Aired August 17, 2021

Imagine Deidra LaWan Starnes as Wendy in a black leather jacket, fingerless gloves, and purple scarf, ready to vroom vroom! She anxiously wonders if she’s forgetting something for her ride, then Geoffrey Rivas as Mac, always an assuring presence, checks the list that she’s already double-checked. He’s set too with his motorcycle helmet in the background. They assure themselves nobody’s getting cold feet. Jib the dog even has his riding goggles. They look so jubilant, happy, and free, so obviously, they’re going to do it! Finally meet! Right? She recounts her plans to finally visit the Grand Canyon and sleep under the stars. Then he shows a picture of the family he’ll be meeting, for the first time, his son Benjamin at an Orioles game, and if that goes well, maybe even the slew of grandchildren in Phily. It doesn’t get more homey than that. Then he’ll head up north and visit wherever he’d like. Free as a bird. They thank each other for opening up these new possibilities in their lives. “We’re different people now,” they acknowledge with depth—she’s officially single again, he quit his job and reached out, thanks to Wendy, and found a family willing to connect. So wait, maybe that’s the best we can expect, something realistic, anything else would be too much of a stretch. I sit back with a sigh and let go of my dreams and expectations. But then they grin with excitement about how wonderful it will be when they arrive at a specified meeting spot, and have a picnic with wine and cheese…. Wait, what? I perk up — maybe they’ll meet after all??!! The lovely script by E. M. Lewis and Bob Bartlett has bobbed and pivoted yet again, woefully for the last time, as we follow the journeys of these two. Mac somberly and carefully says: no expectations, just be together. Yes, Wendy agrees, but the scene must have a water view, mountains…. Ah, yes, they’re unstuck and will explore new moments with trusty dog Jib, great music, pie, and possibilities. Together. What a beautiful journey and joyous ride. Including the Zoom “afterparty” with the cast, writers and director where Starnes and Rivas meet for the first time! The session revealed some of the writing process, the trust and vulnerability of the actors to take on the roles without a script, and so much more. The discussion and audience chat (which mentioned “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Love”) served as a master class on creativity, storytelling, being open, honest, and listening to onne aother for rich weekly creations. While Duck Harbor will be missed, all of the episodes are available online with an all-access pass and are well worth return visits.  They’re that good.

Geoffrey Rivas as Mac and Deidra LaWan Starnes as Wendy in ‘Duck Harbor,’ episode 11. DCMTA screenshot.

Episode #11

Aired August 10, 2021

“Unstuckness”—it should be a word. Big time. After last week’s episode, we didn’t know if or how Wendy and Mac could circle back around and see each other since both were immersed—stuck—in all their “stuff.” They had already bid their tearful farewells to each other and resigned to return to their respective lives. The weeks have gone by, 17 days for them, when Wendy’s cousin Clifford mischievously figuratively pulls the “fire alarm” to cut through the impasse. Geoffrey Rivas as Mac is totally convincing as he goes into full virtual rescue mode, rousing Wendy, a sleepy Deidra LaWan Starnes, from her bed with a computer call and nearly jumping out of the screen to get her and her parents to safety.  He was so emphatic, I even started looking for ribbons of smoke along the backwall while Wendy stumbled around the rooms wondering how she could be totally missing a raging three-alarm fire at her feet. When they both calmed down enough to figure out that Clifford was at the heart of the fake information, they could roll their eyes, breathe a sigh of relief, and settle into their attentive exchange. Because that’s what they do. It’s become a comfort for us as much as for them. And what a discovery to see how both of their lives have been transformed in the last two weeks. In an all-access bonus-content video, the playwrights Bob Bartlett and E. M. Lewis indicated their intention to create a story between the couple to be complex and deeply felt, not frivolous, frothy, or light. That’s what happened here as we learn that Mac has met his grown son, despite all the years of guilt and shame. What a move. And Wendy flashes her signed papers finalizing her divorce. She’s free to live her life without waiting, wondering about Sam—now an ex instead of a “stuckness.”  In the final moments, Wendy and Mac lean into their respective cameras and say each other’s names with resolve, warmth, and smiles.  We simply can’t get enough!

Deidra LaWan Starnes as Wendy and Geoffrey Rivas as Mac in ‘Duck Harbor,’ episode 10. DCMTA screenshot.

Episode #10

Aired August 3, 2021

In last week’s cliff-hanger, just as the “date” between the two weary souls started heating up with possibilities, Wendy got an unexpected and unannounced intrusion: the return of her long-lost husband. What now? Gone are the stemmed roses in the foreground, and champagne glasses are nowhere in sight. Mac’s fashionable starched shirt and Wendy’s glitzy white sculpted dress have been replaced by their dark and drab everyday attire, reflecting their current emotional states. “I can’t do this anymore,” she moans between stifled tears, as Mac agrees. The roller-coaster ride of dashed hopes and possibilities has put us all in a funk—until… bright flickering signs emerge from the doldrums. In yet another display of wonder, the script pivots from wallowing in the couple’s disappointment to highlighting how the two characters have impacted and affected each other in honest and caring ways. “I’m always braver when I’m talking to you,” Mac realizes. Wendy confides that she’s taken out her bike and polished it for a ride. Then Mac exclaims that he actively took real steps to locate his son, and discovered he has a family—four grandchildren in Philadelphia! Heartbreak has morphed into joy and new possibilities—different from the ones they were daydreaming about but salient and solid just the same, and maybe a bit more realistic? Deidra LaWan Starnes and Geoffrey Rivas as Wendy and Mac beautifully capture the twists and turns of deeply personal emotional bonds between people who never saw it coming. In other words, they depict life happening in the moment, and give us courage to keep striving into unknown territory, day after day, week by week, the way we’ve watched them do. We’ll see how they resolve these fascinating matters in the final episodes.

Deidra LaWan Starnes as Wendy and Geoffrey Rivas as Mac in ‘Duck Harbor,’ episode 9. DCMTA screenshot.

Episode #9

Aired July 27, 2021

In this continuation of their “date,” the rubber has hit the road with these two. Wendy, played adoringly by Deidra LaWan Starnes, swerves and sways, wine glass in hand, to the Stevie Wonder track that Mac plays on the audio. Geoffrey Rivas captures Mac’s inner spirit, a fellow who’s finally ready to step out, take a chance, and put his heart on the line. They’ve talked for hours, it’s 1 AM for her, nearly sunrise 4 AM for him. They’ve gotten through and past tough questions about each other, they’ve revealed deepest secrets, and they look forward to sharing more. Mac chugs his wine and nearly hyperventilates with deep breaths to ask the toughest question, would Wendy be his girlfriend! Huh? How? What would that mean, how could that happen? All those questions and more cascade across Wendy’s face as she wonders and ponders, then quietly mutters “Ridiculous!” Mac nearly retreats with the expected and anticipated rejection before she then flings past the impossibly crazy logistics and responds straight from the heart with a resounding “Yes!” Once that’s out there, Mac’s face lights up and she’s not the only one giddy. They look at each other on the screens filled with new possibilities and slowly start brainstorming how they can be together, face to face, across the nearly 3,000 miles that separate their respective Duck Harbors in Oregon and Maryland. She doesn’t fly, never has and doesn’t intend to start now. He hasn’t taken a vacation in over a decade and imagines longingly what it would be like sitting on her porch swing holding hands, while she visualizes snuggling with him and watching a beautiful Maryland sunset along the horizon on his boat. They even fantasize riding their motorcycles meeting each other midway at a roadside diner. Just when we settle in to dream with them, Wendy is startled by the unexpected sound of someone downstairs, possibly an intruder. She looks truly shaken as she heads off camera range looking for a bat for self-protection and lets out a muffled exclamation. Trained for emergency assistance, Mac is utterly helpless and can only pray for her safety. Just then she returns to face him in the camera with “He’s come back.” We know who she’s talking about, and like Mac we can only wait anxiously to see what happens with this startling development.

Deidra LaWan Starnes as Wendy and Geoffrey Rivas as Mac in ‘Duck Harbor,’ episode 8. DCMTA screenshot.

Episode #8

Aired July 20, 2021

The couple continue their “date” once we all had a chance to gulp, breathe, and recuperate from Mac’s cliffhanger announcement—that he has a son. Remember, this bombshell news followed Wendy’s emotional monologue last Tuesday filled with pangs of regret about not having a family, children, that she always wanted. Her “What?!” upon hearing Mac’s revelation matched the intensity of Oprah’s during the Meghan and Harry interview. Bewildered, shocked, disbelief all at once. Mac, played by Geoffrey Rivas, seems stunned that he shared that hidden bit of information about himself. It’s almost like he’s so comfortable with Wendy that the transparency nuggets just tumble out of him, especially considering how vulnerable she was in disclosing her own unspoken truths. Wendy, played by Deidra LaWan Starnes, listens attentively as Mac recounts how a high school prom date notified him of the situation then promptly disappeared from his life. Although he looked for her/them all those years ago, Wendy prompts him: Did he really look hard enough? Why not look again now? In an all-access bonus-content video, Starns gets across the all-consuming aspect of wanting to have a family, a child. It can become a life mission that overtakes Everything. Childlessness for someone who yearns for one is devastating. She brings that awareness to Wendy, who sits staring at the fellow she thought she knew and wonders if she can still take steps toward the future with him. Her final words give us a hint: “We don’t have to stay stuck in our old stories. We can write ourselves a new one.” On to explore where they go with this fascinating twist next Tuesday.

Deidra LaWan Starnes as Wendy and Geoffrey Rivas as Mac in ‘Duck Harbor,’ episode 7. DCMTA screenshot.

Episode #7

Aired July 13, 2021

Just when you think you know somebody, they show up in their Sunday finest and look like entirely new people. On Wendy and Mac’s previous call, they nudged each other to explore taking their interactions to a different level and they set up the next call as a “date.” Wendy initiated again and appeared in a drop-dead gorgeous white sculpted dress, necklace, stylish hair — the works. With roses that Mac sent gathered just slightly within camera range decorating the edge, Deidra LaWan Starnes as Wendy was an image of delight. Mac crouched into camera range freshly shaven in a starched off-white shirt endearingly working on tying an appealing blue-patterned tie. He couldn’t take his eyes off her and eventually gushed, “You look beautiful.” They fall into their usual routine, share the mishaps of their respective days between the West Coast broiling temperatures and Mac’s fire station duties in Maryland. Soon the discussion veers to food — Mac has actually broiled artichoke and rockfish that Wendy notes would fit perfectly with the signature ratatouille that she prepared. The innovative script starts with light banter and slowly swerves into unexpected territory. Their adorable renditions of Stevie Wonder as their favorite artist pivots as Mac dreams of dancing and riding their motor bikes together, in person. That leads to Wendy’s wrenching monologue about living in limbo with no word from a husband who left without a trace. As Mac, Geoffrey Rivas listens attentively, hearing the text for the first time, sometimes crossing his arms as if to guard himself, but then releasing into a trusting stance of comforting acceptance. It’s a stunning moment. Almost as remarkable as his revelation about his life that makes everyone gasp. No spoilers here — next Tuesday can’t get here soon enough!

Geoffrey Rivas as Mac and Deidra LaWan Starnes as Wendy in ‘Duck Harbor,’ episode 6. DCMTA screenshot.

Episode #6

Aired July 6, 2021

What a difference a week makes. For the first time, Wendy places the computer call and peers anxiously into the camera for Mac to pick up. When he finally enters, he’s drenched and in darkness from dealing with the hurricane on the Maryland island that’s knocked out the lights so he’s on backup power. Wendy has followed the weather reports and knows the gravity of the situation. She’s come a long way from the previous week where she dodged his calls and hesitantly wondered why continue their weekly sessions. He assures her that he’s fine and wonders if they’ll ever see each other, in person, despite their 2,980-mile distance, yes, he’s looked it up. He then gently asks if she’s taken her bike out yet. As Wendy, what Deidra LaWan Starnes can do in relaying layered hurt is stunning as she haltingly confides no, that she associates the motorcycle with memories of her husband who abandoned her. Even saying his name is a struggle and getting past that hurdle seems to strengthen her even more. With newly found courage, Wendy revels in her growing confidence, appreciating that Mac made her a priority. Sheltering in place at the fire station for a bit from clearing debris and helping others in danger, he has gone through hell and high water, literally, to talk to her. That gives her the confidence to make first moves, initiate the conversation, and even pop some fun questions, like “So, why are you still single?” “When was your last date?” “Should we go on one? A date?” Now it’s Geoffrey Rivas’s turn as Mac to display his emotional depth looking stunned like a deer in headlights, freezing so effectively you think it’s a computer blip! Once he blinks with the realization that they could dress up, have champagne, and be together on a new level, he heartily agrees, grinning with excitement, wonder, and enthusiasm. Off we go, to join them next week on their first “date.”

Geoffrey Rivas as Mac and Deidra LaWan Starnes as Wendy in ‘Duck Harbor,’ episode 5. DCMTA screenshot.

Episode #5

Aired June 29, 2021

At first this episode didn’t seem as rich as the others but only when it was over did I realize how much emotional territory was covered in a scant 15 minutes. It picked up from the previous final moments where Wendy suddenly appears animated and trying to respond at the end of Mac’s monolog. Once she unmutes, she admits she heard him say that he enjoyed their talks, her smiles and laughter. She’s touched that he would confess to being uncomfortable talking to women, and finally relaxes enough to stop wondering if he’s an ax murderer! As Wendy, Deidra LeWan Starnes exudes an endearing comfort level in her facial expressions and manner as she softens from suspicious to candid pondering. She’s still genuinely unsettled that he would call her 11 times! Why would he do that? What could he want? Their misunderstanding about their geolocations was resolved several calls ago. Why keep talking? With so many questions swirling in her head she resorts to her go-to self-protection mode of flight and distrust. But Mac, played winningly by Geoffrey Rivas, has a way of listening that eases her. She even admits that she intentionally didn’t answer his multiple calls, not because she didn’t care but because she was concerned about caring too much. Mac’s ability to be with her attentively nudges them to a trusting connection. Something slowly shifts between them, almost imperceptibly allowing them to be okay with simply enjoying each other’s company via video and sharing about their respective Duck Harbors, hers in Oregon and his on Maryland’s Eastern Shore—uh oh, where a hurricane is approaching! Only Mac could make it sound as innocuous as a rainstorm. With his fire station responsibilities, the stakes suddenly got higher—the next day isn’t promised for them or anyone. Before you know it, she agrees to be the one to initiate the call next time. The richness of this scene sneaks up on you long after its short duration. Wendy and Mac aren’t the only ones smiling at the end of it.

Geoffrey Rivas as Mac in ‘Duck Harbor,’ episode 4. DCMTA screenshot.

Episode #4

Aired June 22, 2021

Mac, played stunningly by Geoffrey Rivas, gets to shine in this first monologue of the series as he computer-calls Wendy, who doesn’t answer. Mac, still figuring out the technology while trying to connect, communicates in his halting, sincere way. The beautifully crafted script has him lingering on the call hoping that she’ll answer so they can share news about their respective Duck Harbors. Tuesday chats with Wendy have already become an important part of his week, and rituals are important. His comings and goings, walks with his dog, Gib, answering calls as Chief in the fire station, would sound awfully dull to anyone else, anywhere else. His friend Herman’s death still leaves a lingering loss, since Mac no longer has a dependable safe haven, quiet company, and a nourishing meal to share. Still, he embraces the quiet goodness in his life and marvels with exuberance about how lucky he is to be healthy, grilling delish food, watching a gorgeous sunset on the horizons of a beautiful island. It just doesn’t get any better than that, right? And then he thinks of Wendy and wonders: could it? Would she enjoy seeing and sharing the wonders of his life? And then she flickers on accidentally muted at the end of his call. How much did she hear? Enough to get an idea of his feelings, how he enjoys even relishes their talks, her smiles, her laugh? We’ll stay tuned to next time to find out.

Geoffrey Rivas as Mac and Deidra LaWan Starnes as Wendy in ‘Duck Harbor,’ episode 3. DCMTA screenshot.

Episode #3

Aired June 15, 2021

Mac, played by Geoffrey Rivas, computer-calls Wendy, Deidra LaWan Starnes, to thank her for the package of vegetables, and gingerly pulls out something he and maybe others had never seen before—a huge green artichoke. Wendy’s easy instructions for how to cook something that looks so unusual softens their interchange, just as the sturdy artichoke leaves can transform into a succulent dish dripping with butter. The two have that affect on each other. Wendy’s manner is more reserved in this episode, and it’s fascinating to watch the two unravel the emotional layers of protective covering to reveal what’s going on underneath their pleasant banter. You can tell she doesn’t share her thoughts and feelings easily, but with Mac’s gentle questioning, she admits thinking about the husband who left her without a trace several years ago clearing out their assets to boot. He’s alone, she’s emotionally drained; just when you wonder what these two very different characters could have in common, he reveals the carefree times he’s had on his red Harley. With coaxing she admits to having a purple Screamin’ Eagle Harley in a barn, which she hasn’t touched since the abandonment. Although she ponders what they are to each other, and seems hesitant when he asks if he can call the next week, she doesn’t rebuff him. We even wonder if she’ll report digging out the bike and taking a spin toward, well, something different. That’s one of the joys of the series, it leaves you with heartfelt possibility—to be discovered next time.

Episode #2

Aired June 8, 2021

In the second episode of this real-time revelation of characters, Wendy and Mac performed by actors Geoffrey Rivas and Deidra LaWan Starnes continue their conversation, now that she is no longer in danger. As they share descriptions about their respective Duck Harbors in Oregon and Maryland, they realize the surprising similarities of living in small, secluded towns where everybody knows everything about you. Wendy is constantly interrupted as she yells to a nephew in the next room, but calms as Mac describes the solitude of floating on his boat. “Why are you still there?” they ask each other and themselves as they assess and consider their choices in staying in their towns, the advantages, downsides, and wonder are they comfortable, settling, or are they stuck. The script provides openings and glimmers of different ways of being as they listen to each other, and share and wonder.

Episode #1

Aired June 1, 2021

In this launch of Duck Harbor, actors Deidra LaWan Starns as Wendy and Geoffrey Rivas as Mac meet for the first time when they appear on camera. In the opening scene, an emergency situation brings Wendy and Mac together on an internet call and only when he tries to ascertain her address to help her do they realize they’re in different Duck Harbors on on opposite sides of the country. Starns and Rivas have great chemistry in their introductory conversation that started accidently but have hints of warmth and possible interest underneath the banter. As they wait for help to arrive, Mac, a fire department volunteer, helps her calm her down and listens patiently as she shares memory of a childhood incident that has implications on her current situation. Just as Mac and Wendy suddenly meet, the actors themselves finally have scene partners to activate the words with expressions and energize the text to create a lively experience, together.

Duck Harbor
Cowritten by Bob Bartlett and E. M. Lewis
Directed by Alex Levy
Assistant Director   Rashaud Matthews
Featuring   Deidra LaWan Starnes and Geoffrey Rivas
Video and media by Evin Howell Videography

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