UNDER AN OLIVE-GREEN army tent at Sand Point beach, performer Stokely Towles, lean and edgy in park rangeresque khaki duds, sits on the edge of a folding chair, waiting for audience members to arrive. It seems that this moment is part of his performance installation What Happened Here, though, pleasantly, it's never absolutely clear how much of the ranger character in this installation, commissioned by the Seattle Arts Commission, is Towles himself. In a 1996 installation, Towles occupied a trailer on the UW campus and gave "lectures" as a well-meaning, insightful, yet bumble-headed professor of male identity; What Happened Here's Sand Point history expert, who describes an elliptical story of the region over the past 11,000 years, is a more complex character. Partly a parody of an authoritative besuited male lecturer, he is also an unmacho comic worrier and a gentle soul struggling to drink meaning from the world's chaos.

Inside his tent, Towles presents photos of both official and unofficial history: A WWII marine corps is shown, along with a morass of clouds and sun labeled, "Looking up 87,000 years ago." The character is obsessed with history's vastness, and with the fact that ancient peoples walked in the spots where our own maniacal world stands today.

The semi-baffled character begins his lecture with an emphatic attempt to tell a story with "a clear beginning, middle, and end," but he quickly abandons linear tale-telling, comically and poignantly creating a pastiche of fragments that circle around the topic of loss. As Official History is rife with lies, he laments the "unofficial moments" of life that have disappeared; for example, the day when, 45 years ago, the wife of a Sand Point naval officer became a widow, or the moment when, thousands of years ago, the first humans set foot on the land that is now Sand Point.

The Towles character repeatedly casts for some kind of essential meaning in such "lost" moments. Is he parodying the search for such meaning, or earnestly expressing it? It's difficult to say, and the winsome park ranger character doesn't give the audience clues as to the particulars behind his own desperate craving for meaning, aside from existential anxiety. However, Towles' well-researched installation is evocative, rich, comic, and unique.

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