Over the course of what has been a remarkable career, Jonathan Beck Reed has portrayed a Russian milkman, a wealthy hay and feed merchant, a Georgia plantation owner, a slick-talking band instrument salesman and Oklahoma's favorite son, Will Rogers.
And that's just a small sampling of roles that Reed has played in productions that have taken him all across the United States. But it's not the quantity of the roles that sets Reed apart from many actors. It's Reed's uncanny ability to disappear into every character he plays.
I remember seeing a Lyric Theatre production of “Fiddler on the Roof” in which Reed starred as the impoverished milkman Tevye. He dressed the part, complete with a prayer shawl and a scraggly beard. Adding to the transformation was a gravelly, Russian-inflected voice that conveyed the world weariness of the henpecked husband and father of five.
While every actor strives for such lofty goals, few achieve it to the level Reed does. So complete was his transformation that I couldn't locate Reed anywhere in the character I saw. No familiar walk, no recognizable voice, no indication whatsoever that this man on stage was someone I knew. Reed was not portraying a character — he was Tevye.
“That's my objective with every role I play,” Reed said. “You try to inhabit the souls of the characters you're playing. How do they feel? How do they view life? I like to find out the minutiae about a character so that nothing is left to chance.
“I'm also a big believer that costuming helps that process. In order for me to begin the process of evolving into a character, I have to wear things that will help define the role. I also have to divorce myself from Jonathan unless there's some Jonathan in the role I'm playing. It's like channeling.”
After high school, Reed took classes at the University of Oklahoma, the University of Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma City University. And though he worked often, he sought more. With encouragement from his mentor Carveth Osterhaus, Reed headed to New York in 1983.
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