Lucero-inspired play sparks debate

Actors re-enact an attack on an immigrant man

Actors re-enact an attack on an immigrant man in the play 'What Killed Marcelo Lucero?' during a performance at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue. (April 26, 2011) (Credit: Kevin P Coughlin)

The Patchogue theater where actors tried to capture the simmering emotions surrounding the stabbing death of Marcelo Lucero was the site of high drama Tuesday night when it sparked an exchange of words between the father of the teenager who committed the stabbing and a resident of the village.

For some of the 100 people who came to St. Joseph's College to see "What Killed Marcelo Lucero?" the offstage conversation was evidence that emotions in the village are still raw.

"I'm sorry for what happened," said Bob Conroy, the father of Jeffrey Conroy, who is serving a 25-year sentence for the Nov. 8, 2008, killing, adding that his son was unfairly branded a bigot. "That was my son, Jeff. At 17, you can't drive. . . . But you can be put away for 25 years. . . . I don't see color but we were made out to be racists."

But 64-year-old Patchogue resident John Bogack snapped back during the public discussion after the play.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Conroy. Marcelo Lucero is the victim, not Jeff Conroy. I'm glad Jeff Conroy is in jail and all his gang . . . they terrorized a community of people."

The play was performed less than two miles from Sephton Street and Railroad Avenue where the Ecuadorean immigrant was stabbed to death.

It was created by Central Islip resident Margarita Espada, who staged it around the Island since 2009, but never in Patchogue -- where some would rather put the ugly incident behind them.

While the play doesn't depict the Lucero attack, it revolves around the case. Lucero was assaulted by a mob of teens out to attack Latino immigrants and stabbed by Jeffrey Conroy. All are serving time in prison for the crime.

It shows tensions between an English-speaking family and their new Hispanic neighbors that opens the way for a forum discussion.

In bringing the play to Patchogue, Espada said she and the volunteer actors, some who are immigrants themselves, hope to start a dialogue that could prevent the spread of hate.

"I am a Latina, I have children and some of our actors are persons who have been victims of hate," Espada said. "This is part of a healing process for us as a community."

Olga Ríos-Soria, a Spanish professor at St. Joseph's College, said she and others helped to bring the play to Patchogue "to break the silence and bring us to more understanding," not to offend area residents.

But Mayor Paul Pontieri, who did not attend, said stirring "a very painful matter" doesn't help the village of more than 11,000 people.

"The community understands what happened here and has worked very hard to recover from an incident that was brought to us," Pontieri said. "These young men drove five miles into the Village of Patchogue and committed this crime and unfortunately we are the recipients of what happens."
The Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter of The Congregational Church of Patchogue, said the play was a good start for a conversation that Patchogue needs to have.

"Every healing begins with a single stitch and this was definitely a step in the right direction," Wolters said. "There were a lot of empty seats tonight but we had a coming together."

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