At a three-hour Actors' Equity hearing yesterday, a brave, sushi-ravaged Jeremy Piven convinced five fellow actors that his departure from Speed-the-Plow in December was due to life-threatening mercury poisoning and was in no way a violation of his contract, splitting a ten-person panel and absolving him of any penalties from the union. The panel's other half, made up of producers — possibly friends with the very same producers who accused Piven of lying as he lay sick in the hospital — was not moved by his tears, though it didn't matter, since collective-bargaining rules required a unanimous decision for any action to be taken. Huzzah!
Following the hearing, Piven sat for a tearful interview with the Times, in which he explained that he'd been "incredibly sick" since the second week of Plow rehearsals, and would sometimes fall asleep during practice. "The biggest misconception was that this all came out of the blue in December and that I came down with this 'sushi-gate' stuff," he said, setting the record straight. "At times I was incapable of getting enough oxygen to get my lines out on stage, and sometimes I’d forget where I was in the play" (this may explain why Ben Brantley liked William H. Macy and Norbert Leo Butz better in the role).
Sadly, Piven isn't quite out of the woods yet, because Jeffrey Richards and other Plow producers still reserve the right to pursue arbitration against the actor to seek money for the lost sales in tickets following his departure. However, that might need to wait a couple of days, since the Times says Richards seems to have developed a mystery illness of his own:
Reached by telephone at home after the hearing, Mr. Richards said he was sick and on medication and would have no comment.