Actor Jeremy Piven vindicated over mercury illness

By August 27, 2009Got Mercury?

Arbitrator Rules in Favor of Jeremy Piven in ‘Speed-the-Plow’ Dispute

By Dave Itzkoff
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times Jeremy Piven, right, with Raúl Esparza in “Speed-the-Plow” in October.

Updated | 3:44 p.m. The most famous fish story on Broadway reached its conclusion on Thursday after an arbitrator found that Jeremy Piven did not violate his contract when he withdrew from the revival of “Speed-the-Plow,” citing a case of mercury poisoning.

In a statement on Thursday, Actors’ Equity Association, the union that represents Broadway actors, said that an arbitrator ruled in favor of Mr. Piven and the association, adding that the performer “did not breach his individual employment contract nor did he breach the Equity-League collective bargaining contract.”

Mr. Piven, a star of the HBO series “Entourage,” abruptly withdrew in December from “Speed-the-Plow,” a David Mamet comedy about Hollywood producers. Mr. Piven said he had been suffering from elevated levels of mercury in his blood, possibly from eating fish twice a day for 20 years, which left him feeling exhausted and disoriented.

The producers of the “Speed-the-Plow” revival, led by the producer Jeffrey Richards, filed a grievance with Actors’ Equity in January. When a February meeting of members from the association and the Broadway League, which represents producers, resulted in a split decision and no penalty for Mr. Piven, the producers filed for arbitration.

Mr. Piven said Thursday in a telephone interview that he felt vindicated by the decision of the arbitrator. “All we can ask for is our day in court,” Mr. Piven said. “I was lucky enough to get it, and the truth prevailed. It’s a beautiful thing.”

He added: “I’m just a theater actor who got sick, and was physically incapable of finishing my run. And now I can put this behind me and move on. And I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I had a real health scare, and now I can climb back on the stage and know that I’m strong and able to complete the mission. It’s a great day.”

According to a statement issued by Mr. Piven’s publicist, the report issued by the arbitrator said that there was “sufficient evidence to establish that Piven’s decision” to leave the show “was a reasonable one; that it was reasonably based, and that the contrary evidence is insufficient.”

Mr. Piven declined to go into specific detail about the arbitration meetings that were held in June. “I think our president has shown us, beautifully, that the high road is the road to take and so I’m going to take his lead on this,” he said.

In a statement, the producers of “Speed-the-Plow” said: “While we respect the decision, we strongly disagree with it. We remain eternally grateful to everyone who helped make the wonderful production of ‘Speed-the-Plow’ possible, especially the artists who created it, and the many who had to deal with very difficult and trying circumstances.”

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