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From the Mean Streets to the Stage

October 27, 1988|PAUL FELDMAN | Times Staff Writer

Five years ago, the Bounty Hunters street gang gained national notoriety by repeatedly shooting up a Watts neighborhood grocery to avenge the killing of a fellow gang member.

These days, a group of current and former members of the Bounty Hunters are vying for public acclaim in a different way: by producing a play explaining the genesis of Los Angeles' gang problem and urging an end to the bloodshed that claims more than 300 lives a year.

"It's a vicious cycle and it's been going on for too long," said longtime Bounty Hunter Brian (Loaf) McLucas, 22, co-author of the largely autobiographical "Crossfire." "We want to send out a message to redirect things, to save lives."

The play, which is still being polished, appears to represent the first large-scale effort by a hard-core Los Angeles street gang to redirect its antisocial energy into a positive force. "Crossfire" will make a private debut to a group of potential financial backers at a Hollywood church Friday night.

Based on the lives of McLucas and co-author Robert (Dog) Crawford, 23, "Crossfire" attempts to trace the pattern of poverty, violence and despair that plagues young residents of the ghetto.

The play depicts Loaf, at age 8, witnessing the drive-by shooting of an older Bounty Hunter. It depicts Loaf, at age 14, killing a member of a rival gang in a knife fight stemming from the theft of his bicycle. And it concludes with Loaf, at age 22, uttering the following lines: "Now you know our story. The story of children born to die young. It could be over for any one of us, when we leave here tonight. . . . But until we all get together to bring an end to this violence, this story will never end."

McLucas and Crawford, neither of whom has previous theatrical experience, decided to take a shot at the stage after participating in a closed-door encounter between the Bounty Hunters and the Rev. Jesse Jackson just before the California primary in June.

At the session, in which Jackson urged gang members to turn their lives around, the pair met a Hollywood ad man, Harry Webber, who suggested that one way to do so would be to tell their story to the world.

For the last two months, McLucas and fellow cast members, under the tutelage of director Annette Wolf, an associate of Webber's, have rehearsed regularly at the church. Twenty-four of the 26 cast members (ages 11 to 33) are residents of the weed-strewn Nickerson Gardens housing project, home turf of the Bounty Hunters. Most of the youths have been associated with the gang at one time or another, and some are still members. (The two remaining cast members are professional actors Patty Attair and Weldon Glenn.)

It's a long way from Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland putting on a show, says Webber, who had been invited to attend the Jackson session by a friend from the City Attorney's office.

"It's the same kind of energy but they are no longer in the country and it's no longer 'Dad's got a barn,' " continued Webber, who is serving as the play's producer. "It's more like, 'Let's put on a show, but wear your bullet-proof vest (when you return home).' "

Indeed, just last week, a 21-year-old cast member, Jacie (Iceman) Clemons, was wounded in the left leg by drive-by shotgun blasts as he was walking home after an evening rehearsal.

"What we talk about on stage is real, you know what I'm saying?" said Clemons, who returned to rehearsals five days later.

"It's very real," echoed McLucas, an unmarried father of three who served four years behind bars for the homicide he committed while a teen. "It's so real it's not funny at all."

"It's so real, it's pathetic," concluded Crawford, who was sentenced to two years in state prison for conspiracy in the 1983 siege of the grocery store and home of Watts businessman James Hawkins Sr. James Hawkins Jr. was also eventually incarcerated for killing Bounty Hunter Anttwon Thomas, 19.

When Jackson staged his campaign appearance at Nickerson Gardens, he reportedly told the gang members: "Nobody can save you but you."

That, say McLucas and Crawford, has become painfully apparent in the months since.

Once the glare of the media spotlight faded, McLucas said, so did the interest of virtually all the politicians and businessmen who had talked of expanded job opportunities, recreation and social welfare programs. Even Jackson, McLucas said, has seemed somewhat less than eager to provide further assistance to the gang members he helped inspire.

"Harry (Webber) is the only guy we've seen since," McLucas (whose nickname Loaf stems from his thick hair) said last week. "The day after Jackson was here, we went to have lunch with Harry, and he came up with the idea that perhaps we could put something on the stage, you know, to show how to stop the violence and probably save some lives."

For the next three weeks, the pair met daily with Webber, piecing together a stage-worthy script from the drama of their lives. A cast was put together, and rehearsals began two months ago.

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