Three-time Emmy Award winner Jeremy Piven ("Entourage") attended an arbitration hearing Thursday to defend himself before the Broadway community. Jeremy Piven was brought up before Actors Equity by the producers of "Speed-the-Plow" to explain why he exited the hit show in mid-December, just weeks after making his Broadway debut to rave reviews.
At the time Jeremy Piven said it was because of fatigue brought on by high levels of mercury in his bloodstream. And the reason given for these elevated levels? Sushi. The play's author, David Mamet, acidly remarked, "My understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer." Even Mark Wahlberg, exec producer of "Entourage," mocked Piven for making this excuse when the pair attended the Golden Globe Awards in January. Both the show and Piven lost their bids.
At the hearing Jeremy Piven won over the five actors in attendance with his fish tale while the five producing representatives remained unconvinced. Faced with this deadlock, the producers of the show can now pursue arbitration against the actor. However, their case is somewhat weakened as "Speed-the-Plow," which ended its run as scheduled Sunday, still made a profit. Piven's replacements — first, Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz ("Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"), and then Emmy winner William H. Macy — proved to be good draws.
While Piven may avoid any financial payout, his actions probably cost him a Tony Awards nomination. He had earned rave reviews when the play opened Oct. 22 and was considered a strong contender for lead actor in a play. As Bobby, one of a pair of Hollywood hustlers, Piven co-starred opposite perennial Tony nominee Raul Esparza, who played Charlie, and another Broadway babe, Elisabeth Moss ("Mad Men"), who played their secretary, Karen.
For Ben Brantley of the New York Times: "Mr. Piven has the pivotal role, and he executes it with uncanny grace and intelligence." And Elysa Gardner of USA Today thought, "Jeremy Piven's Bobby is softer-textured but also more disturbing than the showbiz animal he plays on 'Entourage'; we see the anxiety and flickers of good intentions underlying his cool arrogance." Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press found that "Piven's Bobby is the play's moral center, or at least, the one person on stage who has qualms about what is happening and doesn't quite know what to do about it. The actor has perfected the persona of bad-little-boy-lost and wears the snarling bewilderment here with considerable expertise." And Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News also lauded him: "Piven is an excellent foil. While downplaying the loudmouthed, sharklike behavior we've seen from him on 'Entourage,' he shows Gould's power-mad side as well as the vulnerability that gradually becomes more apparent."
Twenty years ago, "Speed-the-Plow" lost the Tony Award race for best play to David Henry Hwang's gender-bending "M. Butterfly." This season, three Tony best play winners have already been revived with mixed results: "All My Sons" (1947), "A Man for All Seasons" (1962) and "Equus" (1975). Still to come: classics "Blithe Spirit" and "Waiting for Godot." However, the rave reviews for this production should propel it into the race for best revival. Mamet's 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning "Glengarry Glen Ross" won that Tony Award in 2005.
Raul Esparza, who has struck out in three different Tony Award categories — featured actor in a play ("The Homecoming," 2008), lead actor in a musical ("Company," 2007), and featured actor in a musical ("Taboo," 2004) — could be rewarded by the theater community for adapting his performance to those two successive replacements for Piven. Ron Silver, who originated Esparza's role in 1988, won a Tony for lead actor in a play. While his co-star Joe Mantegna (in Piven's part) did not get a Tony nod, they did compete for the Drama Desk kudos, where Silver prevailed. Alas, Madonna, the poorly reviewed third side of that original lopsided triangle, had to make do with being grateful that there was no theater equivalent to moviedom's Razzie Awards.
Photo: Ethel Barrymore Theatre