Duo to take over role after actor's abrupt exit

William H. Macy and Norbert Leo Butz will take over for Jeremy Piven in the Broadway revival of “Speed-the-Plow.”

Piven’s abrupt exit from the show, blamed on high levels of mercury, had temperatures rising Wednesday, and prompted playwright David Mamet to speculate Piven might seek a new career as a thermometer. But Piven’s physician said the malady is a genuine health scare for the actor.

Deals have swiftly been hammered out for Macy and Butz, with Tony winner Butz (“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”) playing Piven’s role Dec. 23-Jan. 11 and longtime Mamet collaborator Macy stepping into the part for the remainder of the production’s run, which ends Feb. 22.

Before Butz joins the cast, the role of producer Bobby Gould will be played by Jordan Lage in the Hollywood satire. Three-hander also stars Raul Esparza and Elisabeth Moss.

On Wednesday, “Entourage” star Piven dropped the final curtain on his well-reviewed Broadway turn, to which he had committed until late February. Thesp made the move after missing Tuesday evening’s performance and skipping the show’s two Wednesday perfs.

Butz is a well-regarded stage vet whose recent work includes MCC’s Off Broadway staging of “50 Words.” Macy has long been associated with Mamet, not only as a co-founder with the scribe of Off Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company but also as an actor in Mamet plays (“Oleanna”) and films (“Wag the Dog”).

Still, “Plow” had been on the road to recoupment thanks largely to Piven, attracting interest for a stage perf in a role similar to the one he plays on HBO skein “Entourage.” Casting change has left some investors questioning the likelihood of returns.

Although legiters view Piven’s health claims with skepticism — and freely trade gossip about the actor’s perceived bad behavior, including ignoring the traditional half-hour call time — the thesp’s doctor stands by the diagnosis.

“Jeremy has been a trouper, and did everything he could to fight extreme fatigue, among other things, since the condition was diagnosed,” said Dr. Carlon Colker. “It was not his decision to step away from this play, it was mine. I think it was in the best interests of his health to do that.”

Colker is an attending physician at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut, and he is the CEO and medical director of Peak Wellness. He said that Piven’s mercury score was alarmingly high, and it was unclear why that level spiked.

“The etiology is unclear, but his level of mercury was uncharacteristically high, one of the highest we’ve seen,” Colker said. “We’re not sure if this is from his diet, which is high in fish, or Chinese herbs, which he’s been a fan of in the past, or a combination of both. He needs convalescence and rest and treatment, and this will clear his body and he will be back in action very soon. Again, it was not his decision, it was mine, along with a board certified cardiologist from Yale who I won’t name, but who has 29 years of experience.”

Colker said that skepticism and critical reaction — like the Mamet barb — were unwarranted.

“Any insensitive comments like that are not only unkind and unfair, they reflect a profound lack of understanding of a problem that can actually kill,” Colker said, who added that Piven’s stamina wore down over time.

“He did the best he could to hang in there as the rigors of the show continued to increase in intensity, which, coupled with his symptoms, became increasingly difficult to contend with,” Colker said. “I felt the need to step in and make the decision for him to stop.”

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