‘Love Letters:’ Tony Walton, Pia Lindstrom And Terrance Fiore Destined To Be Together


Packed inside a crowded Orient Express carriage, actress Ingrid Bergman caught Tony Walton’s attention with a flash of her eye.

He panicked.

She must need something, the costume and production designer recalled thinking, perhaps a new button on her cardigan. He raced over to the carriage and knelt down.

“Tony,” she whispered in his ear, “I was just looking around, and I realized that, apart from the camera, you’re responsible for everything we see here. You created it all.”

He was flabbergasted, and tears trickled down his cheeks.

They would both walk away with Academy and BAFTA Awards for their work on the circa-1974 “Murder on the Orient Express,” not to mention a lifelong friendship spanning two generations.

This weekend, Mr. Walton will direct A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters” at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Bridgehampton, starring Terrance Fiore and none other than Pia Lindström—Ms. Bergman’s daughter.

“I was thrilled when Pia asked me,” Mr. Walton said, “not only because I love A.R. Gurney, and this play in particular, but I love her mama, and I love her a lot. I do remember a very young Pia. And it’s hard to forget her from that moment on.”

Ms. Lindström was never destined for the spotlight when she was a child, she recalled last week. She lacked the confidence, ability and desire to be any number of characters on a whim. Turns out, she was best at just being herself.

For more than two decades, news-viewing audiences grew to know Ms. Lindström on CBS and NBC, where she worked as an anchor, theater and arts critic, and correspondent.

“In television, you’re being a version of yourself. What you have to learn there is how to be natural, because there’s nothing natural about it,” she said. “I felt all right doing that. I didn’t feel all right when I was very young in acting class, to put on the cloak and clothes of someone else and try to feel their emotions. I didn’t really understand it.”

Now retired, Ms. Lindström has discovered a new, more theatrical side of herself, as has Terrance Fiore. The two Water Mill residents will star opposite one another as, respectively, rebellious Melissa Gardner and straitlaced Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, who have exchanged notes, cards and letters over the course of 50 years.

The action begins in second grade, traveling through their summer vacations, college experiences and adulthood, as Melissa and Andrew discuss their hopes, dreams, ambitions, disappointments, victories and regrets.

“I think human beings are not so different,” Ms. Lindström said. “We all go through that dark night where you have to look at your own behavior, and it could take any form. And then if you do that, some succeed in realigning themselves, and some don’t. I think we’re all both these characters. This play is an eternal dilemma, and that’s why it’s interesting.”

Mr. Fiore, who considers himself a “semi-pro” actor—having graced several local stages, including Bay Street Theater and the Southampton Cultural Center—also imagines himself a “bad boy wannabe,” much like his fictional counterpart, Andrew.

He had a leg up on his insight, his motivations, his character and his behavior, the actor explained, until Andrew makes a fatal error and breaks loose.

“Tony has forced us to examine our characters and what we are really saying to each other, and why we are doing these things,” Mr. Fiore said. “He’s a charming fellow and a delight, and so self-assured that he can just sit there with you and say in a quiet voice, ‘I only have a few notes.’ It’s almost like having your best friend give you a couple of little pointers, rather than having an intense director going down the board. When Pia told me she knew Tony very well, I said, ‘You are in charge of finding a director. That’s it. I’m out of this one.’”

Like many in his industry, Mr. Walton said he originally dreamed of acting, with the ambition of becoming a director. Despite his “cocky” exterior—Mr. Walton’s words—he crumbled into “Mr. Super Self-Conscious” the moment he entered the world of professional theater. He vied for a stagehand position instead, gradually shifting to scenic artist and, eventually, costume and production designer.

He got lucky, he said. And just when he had given up all ambition to direct, two opportunities landed in his lap: Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Irish Repertory Theater on Off-Broadway, and Noël Coward’s “In Two Keys” at Bay Street Theater, offered to him by none other than his daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, a co-founder of the Sag Harbor venue.

“It turned out to be absolutely blissful. It was a wonderful New York debut for me,” Mr. Walton said of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” one of his favorite plays. “And then Sag Harbor was my first way of getting rid of the worst of the nerves, on account of having gotten stuck with diving off the deep end.”

He said he has found the “Love Letters” direction significantly less stressful, and the set is minimal—a pair of chairs and spotlights, a table in between, and a cross nowhere in sight, as per Ms. Lindström’s request. “My character uses the F-word a lot,” she said, by way of explanation.

Ironically, in 1988, “Love Letters” is the first play A.R. Gurney wrote on a computer instead of by typewriter or longhand, as he did previously, Mr. Walton said.

“I don’t know if ‘Love Letters’ has ever been done in a church before,” he said, before bursting into a gravelly laugh. “Seeing as it’s in a church, with the two of them pretty much in the position of bride and groom to-be, I think it will add a little something magical to the feeling the audience has of willing them to do better about getting together.”

“Love Letters,” starring Pia Lindstrom and Terrance Fiore under the direction of Tony Walton, will stage on Friday, May 8, and Saturday, May 9, at 7 p.m. at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Bridgehampton. A wine and cheese reception will follow. Tickets are $25. Proceeds will benefit East End Hospice, Dominican Sisters and Maureen’s Haven. For more information, call (631) 259-1550, or email elizabethkinggeorge@hotmail.com.

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