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Tom Gregory

Tom Gregory

Posted: December 23, 2008 09:26 PM

Jeremy Piven: The Un-American Cop-Out


2008 has stressed America's morale in unimaginable ways. Growing jobless numbers, astronomical fuel costs, a senseless war, and the worst economy in decades have challenged the family budget as employees have been forced to make more and more concessions just to keep bread on the table. An American worker who was wise enough to only take the mortgage he could afford and lucky enough to keep a job that was supposed to be his career, bites his nails as he nervously waits for the next shoe to drop.

We've watched the big guys get a free pass at taxpayer's expense. Responsibility for our economic crisis is not just pushed aside but rewarded by bailouts that make the Iraq War look like the receipt from a 99-cent store. If the beleaguered worker were to give in to the popular fashion of throwing in the towel, our country would go into an economic freefall that would destroy what America has sweat and bled for throughout her history.

Each one of us owes a debt of servitude towards our fellow countrymen who -- despite daunting external forces -- continue to make America work. We're a country who survive by necessity and lead by innovation. When faced with a tyrant, The WWII generation beat back oppression, helped rebuild the world, and constructed a domestic infrastructure that still serves us very nobly. Now it's our generation's turn to do the hard work.

God is not minding the store; success is up to each one of us. The worst-case scenario would occur if we just opt out of our financial and personal responsibilities. We can never adopt the idea that the foibles we are experiencing today will be written off because "back in 2008/2009, everybody behaved that way." Complacency has happened before. How many of us remember accepting racial slurs when we were young because "everybody said them?" If popular fashion dictates dropping out, how many Americans will choose to stay in the race?

Just as blue-collar America struggles, everyday thousands of actors work long hard hours at jobs they tolerate for a chance to shine in one of America's theatres. Dance classes, acting classes, pseudo-agents, endless scams and empty promises stand in the way of the lucky handful who grab the public's discerning eye. The few who make it without the help of a hefty surname have stories that rival any challenge in a Dickens novel.

Broadway is an Indy 500 and a Mozart concerto fused into one. It's where talent, self-disciple, and a great team separate a real star from just another lucky Hollywood break. From Hepburn to Helen Hayes, James Stewart to Hugh Jackman, Broadway challenges Tinseltown's most experienced to prove their muster under the Great White Way's critical eye. Weeks of rehearsal and months of work are rewarded by the audience's cheers, the camaraderie of the cast, and the respect of an actor's finicky peers.

When David Mamet's Speed the Plow opened at the Barrymore Theater this fall, Entourage alumnus Jeremy Piven was a natural choice for the role of the fast-talking agent who weighs art against a sure thing. New York Times critic Ben Brantley lauded praises on Piven and the cast. Speed the Plow was a success. Subsequent offers would likely follow for everyone involved in the show.

Just because you play a role doesn't mean you have any character. Last week Jeremy Piven abruptly left the production claiming mercury poisoning resulting from eating sushi. His physician ran damage control, making TV appearances on his patient's behalf. It was a low in the history of Broadway. Every actor who ever uttered the edict "the show must go on" rolled his eyes, or rolled over in his grave.

As the fiasco unfolded, I thought about all the Americans who fight against backaches, headaches, and unhappiness working at jobs they barely tolerate to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. I thought the summer I spent in South Florida. Road crews were working tirelessly through the August heat to finish a drawbridge for the winter season. I'd sit at the traffic break in my air-conditioned car watching older men shoveling hot asphalt onto the road; to me that was work, and none of them were loafing.

America will pull out of this economic spiral, but only through leadership, hard choices, self-sacrifice, and probably a healthy does of inflation. Make no doubt about it; Piven offered an explanation for his departure, but it was no excuse. I can only hope the producers of Entourage end Piven's contract before he gets his hand on another California roll.