Having fallen into the clutches of sportscasters, marketers, and those who post zingers online, the word “epic” is going slack and baggy, like “ironic” before it. There’s something especially nasty and small about the buzzer-like phrase “epic fail.” Its hostility to the possibility of saying or doing anything poetic or meaningful deflates the very idea of the epic — which is, very crudely defined, a long narrative in which characters, action, themes, tradition, and language are all treated in a heroic, exalted style. Everything from paint-by-numbers superhero movies to college basketball matchups is pimped as “epic” these days, but should anyone attempt actual epic of the “Sing in me, O Muse” variety, the self-appointed anti-epic police will rush to sound the buzzer and deliver the stock verdict of our time: lol you suck epic fail.
But epic is resilient; it’s been fighting back all over the Boston area this spring. “An Iliad,” a widely lauded one-man riff on Homer’s poem starring Denis O’Hare, recently completed its run at the Paramount downtown. “Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage,” a rollicking “songplay” based on the Old English poem, just completed its run at Oberon, American Repertory Theater’s club venue in Cambridge. And Brookline’s PALS Children’s Chorus recently staged Raoul Gehringer’s children’s opera, “The Tale of Moby Dick,” which was the most ambitious and perhaps the most affecting of the three productions — and, not coincidentally, the one that reached most earnestly for the feel of epic.