Mercurial Piven to Plead His Case

Hearing on tap for actor's quick Broadway exit

Jeremy Piven is expected to defend tomorrow his decision to hop on a plane and leave the Broadway production "Speed-the-Plow" in a lurch, citing the deleterious effects of a crippling addiction to sushi.

During a hearing at the Actor's Equity offices on West 46th St. Piven will stand before a panel of five actors and five producers and try to prove to them that he was forced to leave the play, written by David Mamet. He has claimed to have suffered relentless fatigue due mercury poisoning, the result of a lifetime of eating sushi.

"It's my understanding that he'll be there - unless he has too much sushi on the plane from LA," a person involved in the proceedings told the New York Post.

Piven has been charged by the producers of "Speed-the-Plow" with blowing their chances of making back their money by ditching the show. They say his claims of sushi fatigue are bogus.

They will argue that Piven had been calling around asking friends to replace him, complained of being bored out of his mind and will present limousine records that dispute his claim that most nights he was so tired after th show that he simply went home to sleep. Producers plan to show that the notorious party boy didn't let his so-called affliction hamper his nightlife.

Shortly after Piven left in December, Mamet quipped that it was his understanding that the Emmy-winning, mercury-weakened actor had decided to pursue a career "as a thermometer."

Both sides are expected to present competing blood tests.

And Piven shouldn't expect too much support from his fellow thespians on the panel. Many Broadway actors resent Hollywood stars for taking their jobs and Piven's co-star, Raul Esparza was reportedly very open in his glee over the departure.

"I'm sure you've read the headlines about the silliness in our show. Today was the first time I really enjoyed playing this show. I hope you weren't expecting a big TV star," Esparza said following the first performance after Piven's exit.

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