MELISSA LYNCH was an actress with the knack of taking on the most diverse of roles and making them true.
There was the delicate Sonya in Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya," in which she was attired in 19th-century Russian garb with severely pulled back hair.
Then there were the tormented nun in "Agnes of God," the filthy young polio victim in "Bed Bound," the "dead-eyed hippie chick" in "When You Comin' Back Red Ryder."
She also donned the tights of Wonder Woman, played a cardinal's mistress in "The Duchess of Malfi," and a "foul-mouthed and seething" woman in the explosive "boom."
Her range amazed critics, but Melissa Lynch never left Philadelphia for the larger world of American theater and the likely fame for which she seemed destined.
She was snatched from that world of make-believe by the cruel reality of a car crash early Thursday near the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. She was killed instantly. She was 27 and lived in Mayfair.
Melissa was returning home from Cherry Hill, where she was working her job as manager of Catering by Miles, owned by her brother, Michael.
Altogether, Melissa performed in 17 productions in the city, many for the Inus Nua Theater Co., which specializes in Irish, Welsh and British plays, but she also appeared on the Walnut Street Theater stage and other better-known venues in the city.
Her death was most shocking to family and friends because Melissa was fulfilling a dream from childhood to be an actress, and was in line to perform in many other plays this year.
Her sister, Theresa Delaney, described her as a "tremendous woman who had been in the theater for 15 years, but was only just starting all the same."
The family tells the story of how as a pre-teen she dragged her father to auditions for a community theater, saying, "Daddy, this is what I want to do."
She starred in musicals while still a student at St. Hubert's Catholic High School for Girls, then performed in a total of 25 plays and musicals at Clarion (Pa.) University.
Rebecca Godlove, who worked with Melissa in the theater at Clarion, described her on her blog as someone who "was so passionate about everything, you could almost feel sparks crackling in the air around her."
"She was one of those versatile actresses who never got stuck in a certain type of role," Godlove wrote. "She played the innocent Wendy Darling in 'Peter Pan' as adeptly and sincerely as she played the quiet, confident King of England in 'Henry V.'
"She had mastered numerous dialects and could whisk you to the hard-pressed streets of Brooklyn, a Southern plantation, or the foggy, chilly coast of Ireland with just a single phrase."
Melissa's first play as a pre-teen at a community theater in Frankford was a bit part in T.S. Eliot's "Murder in the Cathedral." But in her next play, she was Emily in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," in which she was called on to deliver a speech from the grave about not taking things for granted.
Her last play was the Lantern Theater's production of "Uncle Vanya" at St. Stephen's Theater, 10th and Ludlow streets, in October.
In the poignant final scene, one of the most moving in theater, Sonya tells Uncle Vanya they must persevere through a dismal life and wait for death. Then God will pity them and take them to a beautiful life in the hereafter.
The final words of the play are hers: "We shall rest, we shall rest."
In "Bedbound" by Enda Walsh, Melissa concealed her beauty behind a grimy countenance, smudged with dirt, hair unwashed, teeth gray. The performances by Melissa and her co-star, Brian McCann, were seen as "mesmerizing" by a critic.
In "Agnes of God," her character was described by a critic as that of "the radiant, sad-eyed Melissa Lynch."
In "Breathing Corpses," by Laura Wade, at the Walnut Street Theater, Melissa played Amy, stuck in a dreary job in a dreary hotel, who longs for "someone to talk to - who's not dead."
Melissa was born in Northeast Philadelphia to Michael Lynch and the former Madeline McCarthy. She was engaged to William Seiler and they planned a June wedding.
"She was funny and loving," said her brother, Michael. "She cared about everyone. She touched each person in her own special way. She was beautiful."
Besides her parents, brother and sister, she is survived by two other brothers, Joseph and Ian Lynch, and another sister, Tina Smink.
Services: Funeral Mass 11:15 a.m. tomorrow at St. Matthew's Church, 3000 Cottman Ave. Friends may call at 6 tonight at the Wetzel and Son Funeral Home, 419 Huntingdon Pike, Rockledge, and at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at the church. Burial will be at Whitemarsh Memorial Park.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to St. Hubert Catholic School for Girls, 7320 Torresdale Ave., Philadelphia 19136.