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Community theater group plays tribute to Marcelo Lucero

The call was for individuals interested in a community theater group, an innocuous ad in area Latino newspapers.

Margarita Espada, director of Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja in Central Islip, had an idea for a play, but wanted her actors to come up with something themselves. Through exercises, the issues concerning them quickly came to the forefront: Hate crimes. Discrimination. The killing of Marcelo Lucero.

It was a killing that resonated with the mostly Latino group. An Ecuadorean immigrant, Lucero was fatally stabbed in Patchogue last November in what authorities labeled a hate crime.

"After the Marcelo killing, I knew I needed to do something," said Espada, 43, a Puerto Rican native now living in Central Islip. "I went to the Lucero funeral, the vigils. I was present but I was silent. It was too painful."

The culmination of the group's work will manifest Friday at Hofstra University with the premiere of "What Killed Marcelo Lucero?"

There are about 11 actors in the play, most with no previous experience or training. The group includes Latinos and several non-Latinos, playing characters modeled after reality.

There is a politician. Day laborers. A white family and a Latino family. The play revolves around how Latinos see the white community and vice versa.

"It's very stereotypical but that's part of the beauty of it," said Giovanna Leiva, 17, of Uniondale, who is in the play.

Much of the dialogue is from news accounts quoting politicians and advocates and immigrants in Suffolk County.

For some, the play hit close to home, the actors reflecting on their own experiences as victims of discrimination or assault.

Obdulio S. De León, 35, of Bay Shore, says he's also been attacked many times.

And Leiva said her first memory of coming to the United States from El Salvador is when a girl made her cry in first grade because she couldn't speak English.

The group has been documenting the experience of putting together the play, which they hope to use as an education tool to encourage discussions of bias issues. Espada said she expects the play to be provocative. Some non-Latino actors got pulled out by parents who didn't want them to participate, she said, and there is resistance in some communities she has contacted to hosting performances.

Lucero is not a character in the play. His death is never shown. Rather, the actors pass his coffin around in a funeral scene. "I don't show the moment of death out of respect to the community and to his family," Espada said.

The play never ends. It finishes by posing the question "What Killed Marcelo Lucero?" to the audience, in an effort to start a dialogue.

Espada hopes they have answers.

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