All in the family

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When Madeleine Martin first read the script of the play “August: Osage County,” she wasn’t sure she’d be able to bring herself to play the role of Jean Fordham, the cheeky and emotionally abandoned youngster in Tracy Letts’ wonderfully written family drama.

“When I read the script, I thought, ‘I can’t do this, this is not me at all,’” said Martin, who lives a much more idyllic life with her parents and brothers in Forest Hills. “But when I reread the script, I sort of started to sympathize with her.”

Despite her initial ambivalence about the role, Madeleine does a stellar job of ensuring that Broadway audiences see Jean Fordham as a sympathetic and multi-dimensional character each night.

For the past two television seasons, she has also done a benevolent portrayal of the character Becca Moody, another teenager she currently plays on the Showtime series “Californic­ation.” Becca, too, is often forced to deal with a philandering father, bickering parents and an adult world that seems anything but, well, adult.

“Luckily, I don’t know any adults in my own life who are as immature as the adults in the show,” said Madeleine, with a snicker. “I don’t know any, but I am sure there must be some out there.”

Playing the youngest member of two epically dysfunctional clans is no easy chore, even if the families are imagined.

“I guess the characters are the same in the sense that they are both sort of lonely,” said 15-year-old Madeleine. “Jean’s parents are separated and she has nobody to talk to. She is an only child and she is kind of left to handle her own problems. Becca is the same way.”

Madeleine Martin’s own experience growing up couldn’t be more different than the melancholy characters she plays in “August: Osage County” and on television. Madeleine’s strong family background, it seems, is a key component of her “basic DNA” as an artist; it is her emotional safe place, from which she can dare to play — and fully empathize with — any character, no matter how different than she.

“It’s great, they always come and see me in my shows,” Madeleine said of her parents and two brothers. “I’ve been so lucky.”

Madeleine’s father James is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University. Her mother Margaret is an adjunct English professor with 20 years teaching experience. Both of her older brothers have extensive interest in music. Her brother Joseph plays the piano, while Thomas is currently studying at the Manhattan School of Music.

Thomas was one of the young violin players in the well-regarded film “Music of the Heart,” starring Meryl Streep. It was brother Tom’s agent who first gave a young Madeleine her first big break.

“He asked me if I could sing,” she recalled. “I never sang before, but I said ‘yes.’” Madeleine auditioned for “The Sound of Music” with Richard Chamberlain and got the part.

In addition to her roles in “August: Osage County” and “Californic­ation,” Madeleine has also played on Broadway in “The Pillowman,” “A Day in the Death of Joe Egg:” and “A Christmas Carol.” She has been a guest star on such television series as “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Hope and Faith” and “Saturday Night Live.” She has also performed in such Lincoln Center productions as “Scene de Ballet,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Nutcracker.”

She has studied at the School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center and is currently taking classes at the Broadway Dance Center.

Madeleine said she is thrilled to be playing Jean Fordham in “August: Osage County,” the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play, which is just as strong a theatrical offering now as when it opened more than a year-and-a-half-ago.

“I don’t know, I don’t know what I’ll do when I grow up,” said Madeleine, when asked about her plans for the future. “The classics are fun. I love Shaw and Shakespeare. I like dancing and acting. This really works. This really works for now.”

“August: Osage County” is playing at the Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street.

Posted 6:34 pm, October 10, 2011
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