Mireille (pronounced "mee-ray") Enos is keenly aware that she both physically and vocally resembles Sandy Dennis, the late actress who played Honey in the 1966 film version of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Yet the 29-year-old Houston native, who meets with me in her Longacre Theatre dressing room before a performance, refuses to be fazed by any comparisons that audiences may make.
"I saw the movie a long time ago, and I didn't look to Sandy Dennis' performance at all," says Enos, whose soft vocal style belies a steely determination. "And Edward [Albee] wasn't totally happy with the film because it didn't deal with the comedy that he feels is essential to the play. I focus on the comedy. In any case, Honey is such a strange bird, I couldn't possibly look outside to anyone else's performance to help me understand Honey or play her."
The famed Albee play (this new Broadway production opened March 20) recounts the cruel, ever-escalating marital games—fueled by alcohol, years of resentment, and, paradoxically, intense interdependence—between George (Bill Irwin), a browbeaten academic, and his patronizing wife, Martha (Kathleen Turner). Into the fray enter George's colleague Nick (David Barbour) and his flaky spouse, Honey, who have been invited to drop by for a late-night drink. Defenses are dropped, nasty truths revealed, and the lives of both couples are forever altered.
While Honey has a childlike fragility, she is also judgmental, suggests Enos: "Honey comes from a conservative religious background, which informs her feelings about sexuality and taking up space in the world. She tries not to take up space. But at the same time, her religious upbringing allows her the freedom to make judgments about other people. She is capable of self-righteousness, too. She's strange and awkward and knows she doesn't fit in. On another level, though, she feels superior."
But questions still remain: Why do Nick and Honey stay on to witness—and participate in—George and Martha's emotional conflagration? Besides fostering her husband's professional ambitions, what is Honey's motivation for virtually spending the night there?
"Honey is lonely and hopes she will fit in and find friends," comments Enos. "She's hopeful that George and Martha can break the monotony of her life. When Honey makes the comment about not mixing alcohol, 'Never mix, never worry,' and later Martha echoes those words, she's encouraged.
"So why don't they leave? It's a crisis situation, enhanced by fatigue and liquor," she continues. "I suspect Honey is a private drinker, but she's not used to drinking as much as she does with George and Martha, and then she gets sick. I don't think most people walk out of a fight."
And Honey reveals just how much she loves the psychological bloodletting, gleefully declaring, "Violence! Violence!" as the viciousness between George and Martha mushrooms. Nonetheless, Enos believes, George and Martha's bond may well be stronger after the curtain comes down, whereas Nick and Honey's marriage will be more troubled.
"They will probably remain together, but I'm not sure the damage between them can ever be repaired. Their marriage is not ideal and their sense of intimacy slim to begin with," Enos says. "The play may have some dated elements. Women have careers today and people don't necessarily stay married if they're miserable, although some couples do. But the datedness was never a problem for me. For me, the big challenge was playing a funny, frightened person and trying to find the source of that fear beneath the surface.
"For the first few weeks of rehearsal, I really didn't understand Honey," she recalls. "It came together for me when I began approaching Honey on a moment-to-moment basis, instead of trying to grasp her worldview. Another difficulty was the huge emotional leaps. But Edward's words are so brilliant I don't have to rev myself up. The story does it."
The shy and kooky Honey is indeed a major departure for Enos, who typically plays strong-willed women, like Lavinia in "Mourning Becomes Electra" (Long Wharf Theatre) and Helen Keller's mother in "The Miracle Worker" (a pre-Broadway production with Hilary Swank that never made it into town).
Her other credits include "The Invention of Love" (Broadway), "The Castle" (Manhattan Ensemble Theater), and "You Never Can Tell" (Yale Repertory Theatre). On television, Enos has guest-starred on such shows as "Strong Medicine," "The Education of Max Bickford," and "Sex and the City."
"You Got Honey, Honey"
Enos' family background has served her well for Honey. "We're religious Mormons, and Mormons are conservative. So in that way my background is similar to Honey," she points out. "But my mother, a Frenchwoman—who teaches French in high school—is also very interested in art and culture. God and art went hand in hand in our home. And it should also be remembered that while Mormonism is a conservative religion, it also advocates that whatever you do, you should do it to the best of your ability. It's a positive and encouraging religion."
Enos' father was a high school teacher as well. But Enos, the fourth of five children, had her sights set on an acting career from the outset. She graduated from a performing arts high school and then studied theatre at Brigham Young University in Utah.
"I was there three years and finally left," she recalls. "I felt torn, culturally. It was too homogenous and I was restless and unhappy."
Shortly thereafter, Roger Bennington, a director who was familiar with Enos' work, invited her to appear in "The Pelican," a Classic Stage Company production he was helming. She bought a one-way ticket to New York and has been here ever since, acting almost steadily from the beginning.
Enos considers playing Honey in this production the most significant step in her career; the events leading up to it are still a source of amazement to her. "There were a couple of readings with Kathleen and Bill and David before I was involved. Another actress was playing Honey," she relates. "When David, an old friend, told me that that actress was no longer part of the production, my agent and I kicked and screamed for the casting director to audition me. He had cast me in several other productions and just didn't think I was right for Honey. But finally he set up an audition for me with the director. I then got a callback. After the callback, I went to the gym to work out. When I was finished, I had a message from my agent on my phone: 'You got Honey, honey.' "
Although Enos is hopeful that "Virginia Woolf" will help her "transition into film work," at the moment her thoughts are on the Albee play and her expectation that audiences will leave the theatre appreciating the complexities of the marriages depicted on stage.
"With George and Martha, there is love, not just brutality," she emphasizes. "Nick and Honey's story is sadder. There is much less to hold them together. I hope theatregoers ask themselves, 'Who do I love and how can I be kinder to those people, and myself in the process?' And most important, 'What do I hide behind that keeps me from being happy?' "