8 Million Stories: My Life With Ethan

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THE 7TH AND 8th grade performance of Meet Me in St. Louis at the West Windsor-Plainsboro High School auditorium Jan. 21 and 22, 1983, has taken on almost mythic status.With each passing year, more and more people claim to have been in attendance on those magic nights in Princeton Junction, N.J. I was on stage portraying Fred Gregory, suitor of one of the four Smith sisters. Sharing the stage and playing the role of Lon, the Smith brother, was 12-year-old Ethan Hawke. Even though I was already 13, I liked Ethan. He was a nice kid. Little did I know the parallel lives awaiting us.

Soon enough, Ethan landed a starring role in the 1985 sci-fi film Explorers, alongside the not-yet-late River Phoenix.There are those who would claim I was envious. As evidence, they might point to a song recorded with my friend John, with its chorus, “I hate Ethan/ I hate him, I hate him/ Nothing rhymes with Ethan/ I hate him, I really hate him.” I didn’t hate Ethan. I merely chose to stay true to my roots in live theater, scoring significant parts in the WWPHS productions The Man Who Came to Dinner and Anything Goes. (Has Ethan ever done a musical? I digress.)

Ethan switched to a nearby private school, and our story might have ended there. But once fates are intertwined, they do not easily come undone. As I began my sophomore year at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, I shouldn’t have been surprised when Ethan moved onto my floor at the Morewood Gardens dorm.

We were reunited, and it felt so good.

Ethan was still a nice kid. He didn’t flaunt his status as veteran of a Hollywood flop. No, we were both toiling anonymously toward our respective goals: Ethan’s to be a fine actor, and mine to be an underpaid cog in the publishing world. Oh, how we laughed about the old days. I’d have more specific stories to tell, but Ethan disappeared from college after a couple of months to make a movie with Robin Williams.

That motion picture was Dead Poets Society. I don’t remember it very well, but I think Ethan stood on a chair, and Robin Williams was a DJ in Vietnam, or something like that.

The summer following graduation, I kept a low profile, plotting my next move. Unemployed, unshaven and recovering from wisdom-tooth extraction, I listlessly sat on the floor of my parents’ living room all day in my pajamas. One afternoon, a commercial came on for Ethan’s latest flick, a zany teen comedy called Mystery Date. Fast cars. Fast women.To the skeptical observer, it would’ve appeared that the gulf between Ethan and me had widened.

I knew better.We had conjoined souls.

How else to explain the fact that we both ended up in New York City in the early ’90s? I’m pretty sure I ran into him at the old Luna Lounge on Ludlow Street. If not, it was a guy that looked very, very much like him. Ethan has since appeared in an impressive string of major motion pictures, including Reality Bites and Before Sunrise. Friends who have seen his films tell me that some of them are worth watching. Although my screen work has been somewhat less publicized, I, too, have stacked up some memorable performances. Cinephiles are still buzzing about my turn as an extra in the 1999 Troma Films release Terror Firmer. And in the short film Nights Like These, which played at the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival, my shadow is prominently featured.

We were reunited, and it felt so good. Ethan was still a nice kid. He didn’t flaunt his status as veteran of a Hollywood flop.

We’ve also waged friendly battle in the literary arena. Ethan has authored the novels The Hottest State and Ash Wednesday.They share space on many a bookshelf with my enduring classics, The Christmas Aliens (current Amazon.com sales rank, #2,459,272) and Brain-Boosting Math Activities, Grade 4.

In the spring of 2002, Ethan and I both received long-overdue recognition in our individual fields. Ethan picked up a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for his work in Training Day and, not to be outdone, I was named a finalist in the Association of Educational Publishers’ Distinguished Achievement Awards. Alas, neither Ethan nor I went home winners from our separate ceremonies.

Even on the personal front, similarities abound. Ethan was married to Uma Thurman. Coincidentally, I very much wanted to marry Uma Thurman. In fact, I still do.

Now it’s 2010. More than a quarter century after our shared stage glory, Ethan and I both find ourselves on Broadway. Ethan is directing Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind at the Acorn Theatre on 42nd Street. Me? I work in an office building on Broadway, between Prince and Spring streets. I know what you’re thinking: How is 42nd Street considered “Broadway”? Sorry, folks, but I’m not going to engage in a petty game of “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” I like Ethan. He’s a nice kid. C



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