FREDDY: Oh King Willie CMXXI, what problem is plaguing this mighty kingdom?
KING: A mean, evil, terrifying dragon has threatened to breathe on this kingdom with his bad breath unless we think of a wise and witty saying.
FREDDY: Oh King, but why must we think of a wise and witty saying?
KING: I don't know why but I think it is so because he is a stand-up comedian and he needs it in his routine, or something like that. -- from "How It Came to Be"
"I didn't think it was that good," says McLean playwright Bernie Liu. He's the author of "How It Came to Be," one of the winners of the Seventh Annual Henny Penny Playwriting Contest. "It's still hard to believe. I feel strange. And awkward."
Says Bethesda playwright Donna Mulvihill, author of "Galaxy Girl and the Great Nuclear Nemesis," another of this year's winners: "I am very surprised and excited. I know there were a lot of entries."
There were nearly 1,000 entries from 38 states and three foreign countries, according to Children's Radio Theatre, which holds the contest. This week the troupe announced that 12-year-old Liu and and 13-year-old Mulvihill are among five dramatists whose plays will be performed April 13 in a live nationwide broadcast from the Kennedy Center (10 a.m. on WPFW-FM 89.3).
Mulvihill, a third-time Henny Penny honoree (she penned her first winner three years ago), impressed this year's judges with a play that is "slick, sophisticated and ideally suited for radio."
Liu's was praised as "a delightful and fanciful fable."
"The name of the hero in my play is Freddy Jones," says Liu, a sixth-grader at Haycock Elementary School in Falls Church, where he serves as chairman of the Days and Drives Committee, an organization that promotes school spirit. "Usually when I try to think of a name for a story, the first name is too stereotyped and the last name is too complicated or extravagant. This time, the first name is semi-common. I never did think of a good last name."
"What can I tell you about Bernie?" asks Terri Rubin, Liu's Language Arts teacher and a sounding board for his playwriting. "He's wonderful and adorable and terrific. He's also very shy. He must be mortified by all this."
Liu, seemingly unperturbed, goes on, "I play the saxophone and the piano. I like computers. I like to watch football and put statistics in my head. And I have a guinea pig as a pet. Its name is Maple, like the tree."
NARRATOR: As our scene opens, on the planet Neptune, we find the mild-mannered Zelda Zlang at the Milky Way Bar. No one, not even her husband and children, know that Zelda Zlang is the interplanetary heroine Galaxy Girl. -- from "Galaxy Girl and the Great Nuclear Nemesis"
"I like writing about Galaxy Girl because I can make her do anything," says Donna Mulvihill, resplendent in parochial-school plaids, at the Little Flower School in Bethesda. "She can fly. She can stop a missile. And she has a special kind of vision, like Superman, so she can see through things."
Her first play, a 1982 Henny Penny winner cowritten with fellow student Catherine Edwards, was "Galaxy Girl and the Case of the Remote Control Revolver." Her second play, a solo effort for which she received an honorable mention the following year, was "Galaxy Girl and the Case of the Liberty Larceny." A 4-foot-11 eighth-grader who plays guard on the girls' basketball team, Mulvihill says she identifies with her heroine "because of her powers."
The latest in the Galaxy Girl series is "kind of a message play," she says. "We should be more careful with nuclear bombs. I wouldn't spend all the money on nuclear bombs. There are better causes, like poor people."
"Donna is a very capable young lady who loves life and has a marvelous sense of humor," says Mary Ann Egan, her English teacher. "As far as this play goes, I gave her very minimal suggestions."
Mulvihill explains, "Mrs. Egan didn't like it when one of the characters said, 'Hey Lady, my Milky Way Shake don't got no marshmallows in it!' because that's incorrect grammar. But I decided to keep it that way for the effect, because that's the character."
Undecided about continuing her career as a prize-winning playwright, Mulvihill says she is thinking of becoming a veterinarian. As for Liu, he plans to enter next year's competition.
A more immediate concern, however, is the Dress-Up-as-a-Sports-Figure-or-Sports-Equipment Day at Haycock Elementary. "My friend Michael," he says, "is going to dress up as a Gatorade bottle."
The other Henny Penny winners this year are a group of second graders from Elkridge, Md., Elementary School, for "The Mud Monster"; Winnie Phillips, 12, of Union, N.J., for "The Light of Truth"; and Eric A. Traynor, 14, of St. Petersburg, Fla., for "A Dagger of the Mind."