Piven's "Sushi-Gate" Really Stunk

Arbitrator's ruling shows soured relationship between actor, Broadway producers

By BJ Lutz
|  Friday, Oct 9, 2009  |  Updated 6:06 PM EDT
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Chicago native Jeremy Piven unexpectedly left his role in a hit Broadway show due to illness.

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The details surrounding Jeremy Piven's "Sushi-gate" really stunk.

The New York Times has gotten hold of an arbitrator's ruling, previously confidential, in the case between the Evanston native and the producers of his Broadway play, "Speed-the-Plow."

Recap:

Piven appeared in the production at the start of its October, 2008 run but dropped out two months later, citing being ill with the Epstein-Barr virus and mercury poisoning. Piven evidently loves sushi and claims he's eaten fish twice a day for 20 years, and the high levels of mercury in his blood left him feeling exhausted and disoriented.

Some associated with the show weren't exactly buying his story and filed a grievance with Actors' Equity, a union which represents live performers. They basically called Piven a "night-owl" and claimed that he'd been seen around town when he'd said he was at home resting in bed.

They filed for arbitration and a decision was made in August that Piven had not breached his contract and leveled no penalty at the star.

"I’m just a theater actor who got sick, and was physically incapable of finishing my run," Piven told the New York Times after the decision.

New sordid details:

The arbitrator's 44-page ruling offers a look at the offstage drama and shows just how sour the relationship became:

"I think he is playing up this mono/Epstein Barr as a legitimate excuse to leave which I think is simply not true, as he has had it for the past three months and has performed the show and been out partying," the show's director wrote in e-mail obtained during testimony. "We need to call his bluff."

"We must have a second opinion,” a producer wrote in another e-mail. "First we were told hepatitis. Then, Epstein-Barr now mercury poisoning. Who knows next it might be tb."

Ouch.

Piven was eventually replaced by two other actors and the show closed as scheduled last February.

He calls the ordeal the "most surreal experience" of his acting career.

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