It may sound strange, but Cindy Marcus and Flip Kobler got into show business because their parents encouraged them to.
Even in the years when they struggled as actors and writers, their folks never said, "Get a real job" or "Have something to fall back on."
The support paid off because Marcus and Kobler made it as screenwriters, and now they're giving something back to their mentors.
So the husband-and-wife team, staffers at Disney, wrote a play called "Ghost of a Chance" for their parents to act in. Only problem is, Marcus' mother lives in California and Kobler's father lives in Florida. How to solve the problem? Two productions on each of the coasts.
They created a character specifically for Marcus' mother, Ruth, and Kobler's father, Fred. Ruth Marcus, a Chatsworth resident, is a longtime stage actress from Chatsworth whose day job for more than 20 years was as an administrative secretary at Cal State Northridge. Fred Kobler is a community theater veteran from Clearwater, Fla.
On Saturday and Sunday, "Ghost of a Chance," a comedy about life and death, will complete its two-week California premier at the West Valley Jewish Community Center in West Hills.
The play revolves around Bethany (Peggy O'Neal), a woman who returns to the Connecticut cabin of her late husband Chance, where three years earlier he had been killed in a hunting accident. Joined by Floyd, her fiance (Jim Ulmer), and his mother, Verna (Ruth Marcus), the woman encounters her husband's ghost (Flip Kobler) at the cabin and hires a psychic to get rid of it.
Flip Kobler is also the set designer. Cindy Marcus directs the play and also designed all the costumes. Kobler Sr., who was in the Florida production two years ago, this time offers moral support from the audience.
"It's a real family affair," Marcus said. "It's also a bit stressful because I'm directing my husband and mother here."
And there's plenty of stress to go around. Ruth Marcus portrays an extremely possessive mother who opposes her son's engagement.
"I felt very touched at first that they wrote this role for me, but then I saw Verna is so critical, and I wondered, 'Is this how you really see me?' " Ruth Marcus said laughing. "But I just figure it's their dramatic license to do whatever."
And Kobler the actor is taking orders from his wife the director.
"At first it was real hard, but you just learn to let go," he said. "It takes a lot of work and effort, but I really trust her as a director."
Two years ago, when "Ghost of a Chance" premiered in Clearwater, Fred Kobler starred alongside his son. Fred played the part of a nerdy man seeking to purchase the cabin. This time around, he flew in from his Florida home to see the California production, but couldn't play the role because he was unable to attend rehearsals.
"The same happened with Ruth when we played in Florida," the elder Kobler said. "It just wasn't convenient for her to be there long enough to do it, but she flew out to see the show. And I'll tell you, neither one likes it very much when someone else plays their role."
For Flip Kobler, the coast-to-coast trek is a small compromise considering that the highlight of his career is sharing the stage with his father, whom he grew up watching and admiring.
"I'll probably never get the opportunity to work with my dad again, so it was extra special," Kobler said. "He's the one who said, 'Go for it! Take a chance!' when I wanted to move to L.A. to pursue acting."
Working with his mother-in-law is also a treat, Kobler says. He shared the stage with her in 1992 when both starred in "Wild Dust," a feminist western that Kobler and Marcus wrote in six days.
"Wild Dust" played for two weekends at the Studio City Park Players and was subsequently published.
"I know this sounds like I'm the biased mother, but I've worked with so many directors and actors over the years and it really is wonderful to work with Flip and Cindy because they're so talented," Ruth Marcus said. "It's so much fun too."
Marcus and Kobler, who live in Valencia, met 12 years ago while working as actors on a low-budget play at West L.A. College. Seven years later they married and have since worked together on a variety of projects.
In 1988 they sold their first screenplay, a cop thriller, to Paramount. A couple of years later, Universal bought their screenplay about the relationship between a boy and a dolphin. Neither script has gone into production.
Marcus and Kobler wrote a "Star Trek" episode in 1994 and are currently working on the sequels to Disney animated films, "Pocahontas" and "The Lion King."
"I don't act anymore," Cindy Marcus said. "Flip loves it and does it every opportunity, but I really like the writing and directing."
At times it's difficult, both agree, to do everything together; live, commute, work. They even have adjacent offices at Disney's North Hollywood location.
"It's tough to make it work sometimes," Kobler said. "You really have to find a rhythm and balance."
Adding parents to the mix can make it a draining family affair, but Kobler and Marcus say they'd do it again.
"There is some stress involved, but after all," said Marcus, "they're the ones who got us into this in the first place."
* WHAT: "Ghost of a Chance."
* WHERE: West Valley Jewish Community Center, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills.
* WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.
* HOW MUCH: $10-$12.
* CALL: (818) 587-3300.