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A feather in her Capulet

Australia native Melissa Dunphy plays up the 'typical teen' aspect of Juliet with Theater of the Seventh Sister

Rebecca J. Ritzel of Lancaster Intelligencer Journal

DETAILS Romeo & Juliet, Sat. & Sun., 7:30 p.m. Long's Park Ampitheater. Harrisburg Pike at Route 30, free, 295-7054.

Melissa Dunphy can relate to characters in an epic romance. She's living one herself, thanks to rock group Nine Inch Nails and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Melissa will star as Juliet this weekend at Theater of the Seventh Sister's production of "Romeo and Juliet" onstage at Long's Park.

Exactly a year ago, she was scheming to marry her own beloved. The saga begins in 2001, when Melissa, who was working at a television station in Sydney, made the finals of a "Be Our Next Reporter" contest on Channel V, Australia's equivalent of MTV.

She was assigned to interview members of A Perfect Circle, a rock group with a similar fanbase to her favorite band, NIN. She posted a query on looking for questions. To her surprise, the Webmaster, a guy named Matt Dunphy, responded by urging all NIN fans in Australia to watch Melissa's interview and vote for her to win the contest.

She didn't. But she did start e-mailing and instant messaging Matt.

Two years and 500 pages of e-mail later, she flew to the States on holiday and arranged to meet Matt in York.

"We were just friends," she said, with emphasis. "I always cringe when people ask me how I met my husband, because I honestly think there can be something really creepy (about meeting) on the Internet."

They took off on a road trip to New Orleans.

"It was an amazingly magical week," Melissa said. "It was like fate was telling us what to do."

Eight months later, after Matt graduated from college and saved enough money for a plane ticket, Matt flew to Australia and proposed. Then their relationship got complicated.

"A lot of Americans don't realize how difficult it is for a foreign national who's in love with an American," Melissa said.

So began a five-month odyssey of fees, forms, waiting periods and bizarre questions to get Melissa to receive a "fiance visa."

To receive such a visa, immigration officials requested evidence such as the engagement ring receipt, engagement photos and congratulatory letters from in-laws.

"You have to prove it's not just a sham for the citizenship," Melissa said. "It's really quite insane."

Matt and Melissa turned in a large stack of e-mails to the Department of Homeland Security.

"We said, 'How could we have faked this,'" Melissa said.

She received her visa in June 2003, with one major condition - marry Matthew Dunphy within 90 days of entering the country.

"Most people take a year or more to plan a wedding. I planned this wedding in 90 days, without knowing the area, and without knowing how to drive on the wrong side of the road," Melissa said.

They were married in September and moved to Columbia. While Melissa waited to qualify for a work permit, she started volunteering at WITF-TV in Harrisburg. Now she's a programming assistant at the station. But in the evenings, she's often onstage.

"I was amazed," Melissa said. "There are so many quality small professional theaters here."

So far, she's appeared as Margot in "Diary of Anne Frank" at Open Stage of Harrisburg; Cobweb in "Midsummer Night's Dream" at Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival, where she was also music director; and as Juliet with Theater of the Seventh Sister.

The theater produced the same show last winter at Liberty Place. Many cast members who turned in strong performances are reprising their roles, including Timothy Riggs as Romeo, John Rohrkemper as Friar Lawrence, and G.I. Brinson as Tybalt. Gary Smith directs.

Melissa purposely portrays Juliet as an impetuous teenager. Shakespeare says she's just turning 14.

"Everyone forgets what it is like to be 13, 14 and 15 when your hormones are going insane and your emotions are all over the place," Melissa said. "You can't judge (Juliet) as an adult. . . . I admire her determination; I think she makes really poor choices."

Romeo and Juliet meet, fall in love and decide to marry all on the same night.

"As much as I want to say, 'Well, that's kind of stupid,' there are probably people in this world who would judge me for having known a guy for three weeks, in person, and deciding to commit myself to him."

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