Vulcan is the least glorious of all the gods: he is singled out as the only god with a disability, the only god to work, the only god called ugly. But Vulcan, the god of metalwork in both Greek and Roman traditions, is not just a workhorse. He also plays the tortured artist, chipping away at his latest project in a cave while his friends and paragon-of-beauty wife, Venus, party aboveground.
Vulcan is associated with the Greek god Hephaestus, but his lone-wolf turbulence is strongest in his Roman form. Vulcan’s affinity for fire is less about the forge and more about the potential for destruction. Hephaestus is a steady, focused flame; Vulcan is a subterranean current of magma that might erupt at any moment. His worshippers appeased him at the annual Vulcanalia festival, throwing animals into the fire as sacrifices. How did this ugly duckling, this artsy underdog get to the point of demanding blood? It might have something to do with the Roman obsession with the patriarch.
Vulcan’s connection with his mother is both stronger and more traumatic than it is with his father: some versions of the story have Juno conceive of baby Vulcan without his father Jupiter, in a fit of revenge for having birthed Minerva without her. In both versions, when Vulcan is born cosmetically challenged, Juno hurls him from Mount Olympus, and he is raised underwater by adoptive mother and sea-nymph Thetis. As a mature god, Vulcan’s trouble with beauty and women takes the shape of his most famous wife, the goddess of love and beauty herself. Venus and Vulcan’s arranged marriage turns ugly when Vulcan’s undercurrent bubbles up into rage at Venus’s ongoing affair with Mars. He traps them in the act with an invisible net, exposing himself as the cuckold in an embarrassing attempt to punish them. In his Roman form Vulcan channels his sexual frustration and hurt pride into not only his work but a resentment that threatens environmental violence. So does Vulcan erupt because Venus is unfaithful? Or does Venus cheat because she’s married to an antisocial, explosive man of iron?
This comedic short explores the questions any modern witness of Vulcan and Venus’s relationship might ask: why him? Why her, for that matter? What makes them stay together? Through exploring their choices in a world without or beyond gender, the play sheds new light on a timeless dynamic: the empathic party girl who loves to love and her brooding, withholding shut-in of a boyfriend.
VULCAN by Casey Busher
Staged Reading on October 18, 2018 at the EXIT Theatre
Casey Busher is a Berkeley native and an Athena/Hermes personality combo. A Hellennite since third grade, when she donned a helmet with a plastic owl affixed to the front in an homage to Athena, she is fascinated to explore how the Roman Empire made Hephaestus into their own Vulcan. Casey regularly performs with her all-woman improv troupe Peach Pit, teaches improv classes at Leela, and enjoys creating and consuming fiction and comedy.