If you are not aware, Piven left the show Speed-The-Plow last year 11 weeks before his contract was to end, due to 'exhaustion'. He claimed, and had a doctor back him up, that he had high levels of mercury in his blood due to eating too much sushi. Normally, a condition as serious as mercury poisoning would be considered grave enough to let an actor out of his/her contract. However, there were rumors about town that Piven had been complaining that he was bored with the job, that he had called some famous friends to see if any of them would want to replace him in the show, and, that he would stay out late after performances instead of getting rest. Anyone who has done it knows that 8 shows a week is not easy. It takes discipline and focus to do your job well and keep your energy up night after night. It takes a high degree of professionalism. Unfortunately, not everyone employed on Broadway takes the job as seriously as others. I have personally witnessed people performing poorly due to their lack of commitment to the work. That is an unfortunate condition of our, and many, industries.
In Mr. Piven's case, my opinion here is formed from hearsay alone, it seems that he did not act professionally at all. He was an 'above-the-title' star who chose to leave the show rather than complete his contract. If he was feeling under the weather, couldn't he have alerted the producers to his condition and ask to only do 6 shows a week to recover some of his energy. If that didn't work, then perhaps an entire week off would have gotten him well-rested. And furthermore, his 'addiction' to sushi caused him to have serious health issues. If an employee of a company has other unhealthy addictions, there is often an attempt to help the person overcome their problems and set them back on the path to a healthy lifestyle. In this case, he gave the 'company' no chance to help him. He just left and caused the production, the investors, the other stars, the producers and the myriad people working on the production tremendous difficulties. (I wonder if he is still eating the Japanese delicacy every day.)
I am thankful to have worked with and know many fine actors, singers and dancers who approach their jobs with the dignity and commitment they deserve. After all, to be an actor/singer/dancer in a Broadway show is not only a great joy but a great privilege. There are 45,000 members of Actor's Equity Association and only several hundred Broadway jobs at any one time. So in my opinion one should be grateful to be employed.
I am amazed to see that Mr. Piven is getting off without any form of retribution. However, I am not surprised. The producers made a mistake in not having their own doctor give Mr. Piven a physical and check out his claims of mercury poisoning and exhaustion. During the AEA hearing and subsequent arbitration hearing,the producers had no way to refute his doctor's testimony and evidence. Had they had an independent doctor's examination done and he/she found that there were inconsistencies in the claims of Mr. Piven and his doctor, then I probably would be writing a different article. It is a shame, because Mr. Piven's apparent lack of professionalism may now be seen as OK by other Equity actors and/or movie/TV stars who come to Broadway for a quick pit-stop. I hope not.