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  • ‘Kafka’s Monkey’ Proves a Firecracker of an Evening

    Before we get to the monkey, let’s talk about Kathryn Hunter. Rarely has an actor’s transformation so shocked my senses as this short 55-year-old woman’s impersonation of a chimpanzee turned human turned vaudevillian. In a tuxedo with gloves, hat, and cane, she hobbles onto the stage with knees bent and arms askew and smiles nervously at her audience before beginning her presentation. The entrance is so convincing that I found myself wondering if in fact it were possible for an ape to become a man and how I would feel to find such a specimen standing before me. Only later did I realize that Hunter had no makeup on.
    This trick both of the senses and of moral expectations is exactly what Franz Kafka had in mind when he wrote “A Report to an Academy” in 1917. The monologue presents an ape who, having been captured in West Africa and shipped to Europe, overcomes his situation by transforming himself into his jailers. He learns to walk, talk, think, and function in polite society, eventually making his living as a vaudeville entertainer. Between gigs, presumably, he graces the presence of an unnamed “academy” to report on his conversion from beast to European.
    Kafka’s dark joke is to

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