Jack Moe, sitting at a desk with a fedora slung back on his head like some Hollywood detective, leaned hard into a microphone and filled a voice mellowed by 82 years of use with all the film noir muscle he could.
"So everyone, adjust your radio dial, sit back and enjoy," he said, clutching a script in his fist. "This is WEZQ, 6251 on your radio dial."
Heroes, heroines and villains tramped to the microphone as a melodrama, "The Tribulations of Tabitha," unfolded.
Alice O'Keefe -- who is "89 and three quarters" and a mother of six -- danced a little soft-shoe number, fluttering a white top hat and cane. She steadied herself on the back of a chair just a moment before shooting a Rockette-like kick into the air.
Frances Groover, 82, sang:
And hearing aids and glasses,
Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses,
Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings,
These are a few of my favorite things!
Now in their 80s and 90s, they wrote the script, played the parts and sang the tunes. And although the old-fashioned production -- an episode of "The Antiques Radio Show" -- was not really created for broadcast, they even threw in some ads. But they were doing something seen as increasingly important for the elderly: engagement.
"The Antiques Radio Show" is just one of many ways that residents of the Vinson Hall retirement community in McLean have been keeping themselves busy. Some members of the cast started their day with a round of aquatic volleyball.
"We actually are already now in the middle of a cultural change," said Vinson Hall's chief executive, Kathleen L. Martin, a retired rear admiral who once oversaw the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. "It's more than just getting activities for them. It's involving the residents in everything we do here."
Like the rest of the country, Fairfax County is graying. The median age crept up from 25.4 years in 1970 to 37.6 years in 2004, and it is projected to rise to 39 by 2010. By that time, the percentage of the county's population 65 and older will have risen to an estimated 9.2 percent, from 7.9 percent in 2000.
Vinson Hall, a community for retired commissioned officers and their spouses, exemplifies trends in aging.
Although Vinson Hall has a waiting list, not everyone jumps at the chance to move in. Some people will pass on an opening, preferring to remain a while longer at home.
With people living generally longer and healthier lives, that is a viable option for many. At the same time, some residents said they gladly gave up chores such as shoveling the driveway for the conveniences of the retirement community. Others said they had worried about becoming isolated in their homes and decided to take a chance on living in a community with people they had never met.
At Vinson Hall, there is more emphasis than ever on keeping its 300 residents active and engaged.
That has also meant that Charlie McCabe's job has gotten tougher. McCabe -- who is 90 and a retired Navy lieutenant and who dressed in a canary yellow jacket for the show -- is Vinson Hall's entertainment impresario. When he arrived 12 years ago, he said, the entertainment consisted mostly of watercolor classes.
"They did things that were horrible. They'd bring in a girl playing piano," McCabe said, before correcting himself and mentioning that classical music is still on the menu. But now? "You're bringing in some new people who want to do things. I consider mine almost a full-time job."
In addition to a new activity center with a pool, residents have a memoir club, woodworking shop, a poetry group and a cyber cafe. Some take tai chi classes.
But what made the radio show interesting was that it was created by the residents themselves.
"We feel we're kind of halfway between 'Hee Haw' and 'Green Acres,' " said Moe, a retired airman who also worked for Xerox.
Moe's wife, Bev, 82, who wrote the script for "The Tribulations of Tabitha" and directed the production, said she has studied aging all her life. Born in North Dakota, she became a social worker in the days when there were few programs for the elderly.
"There are always people who are old at 16," she said. "We celebrate our walkers, our canes, our wheelchairs. I've never quit trying and will probably keep trying until the day I die, trying to find out how we age."
The show followed the time-honored conventions of melodrama: the slightly convoluted plot, the piano erupting in sweetsie-poo airs for the heroine and solid major chords for the hero. When Lois Donnelly appeared -- in a bowler and outsized black suit and with a Charlie Chaplin mustache and Groucho Marx eyebrows pasted on her face -- the piano dipped into dark minor chords.
"I'd never done anything like this, except in the second grade," Donnelly, 79, said afterward.
She said she was unsure about giving up her home in Falls Church to enter Vinson Hall four years ago.
"I really didn't know what to expect," she said. "I thought I was going to die in that house on Columbia Street, and I wasn't crazy about it."
But since she and her husband moved in, she has been amazed at her own level of activity.
"I was the original couch potato," Donnelly said.
But the guys who really stole the show were the crew members who performed the sound effects -- with the help of such things as egg timers, railroad whistles and a bathroom cabinet.
When it was time for characters to exit, Paul Peak, 83, a veteran of the Coast Guard, limped to the microphone, one shoe off. Holding the shoe in one hand and what looked like a doll's wardrobe closet in the other, he banged the shoe against the cabinet to imitate the sound of walking. Then he slammed the door.
There were yucks all around -- and no one apparently knew until afterward that until its star turn, the cabinet had been hiding a resident's toilet brush.
"You never know where you'll find a ham," Peak said.