Acclaimed playwright accused of plagiarism

Published September 25, 2004 6:46PM (EDT)

English playwright Bryony Lavery has been accused of plagiarizing passages from a criminal psychiatrist and a magazine writer in her Tony Award-nominated play about a serial killer and his psychiatrist.

Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis and Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker said they had found at least 12 instances of plagiarism in ``Frozen,'' which earned a Tony nomination for best play this year.

Biographical and thematic details had also been taken from a New Yorker profile Gladwell wrote about Lewis in 1997 and from Lewis' 1998 book ``Guilty by Reason of Insanity,'' the two charged. ``Had she asked for material we would have given it to her, but what she has done is a theft,'' Lewis' lawyer, Martin Garbus, told The Associated Press Saturday.

One passage in Gladwell's article, quoting Lewis, allegedly is included almost verbatim in Lavery's play. It reads, in part: ``I just don't believe people are born evil. To my mind that is mindless. Forensic psychiatrists tend to buy into the notion of evil. I felt that that's no explanation.''

For the play's character Agnetha, a criminal psychologist, Lewis charged Lavery used several biographical details from ``Guilty by Reason of Insanity.''

``If you look at the incidents in the play, you'll see every one of them comes from the book or the article,'' Garbus said.

The charges were first reported in Saturday's editions of The New York Times.

Chris Boneau, a spokesman for MCC Theater, told The Times that Lavery was not available for comment.

``Attorneys have been engaged, the discussions are amicable, and we expect a resolution,'' Boneau said in a statement. He did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.

Lewis has asked for a public announcement of the alleged plagiarism, credit in advertisements for the play and a monetary settlement including a portion of film or television revenues.

``Even the slightest mention would be great,'' said Gladwell, who said he supports Lewis' charge. Lewis, a professor at the Yale University Child Study Center, could not be reached Saturday.

``Frozen'' opened in New York last March at off-Broadway's East 13th Street Theatre. It transferred to Broadway in May and closed in August.

It lost the best play Tony to ``I Am My Own Wife.''

By Sam Dolnick

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