ECTOMORPH’s vaudevillenium, Ectomorph, at Second City, Donny’s Skybox Studio. The problem with too many comedy troupes in Chicago is the level of their allusions. Eager to find their place in the Hollywood comedy machine, they pack their shows with references to hit TV shows and pop icons and pepper them with buzzwords: “Sweet!” “Duh!” “Hel-lo?” Such intentional self-lobotomizing might get you a place on Saturday Night Live or Dharma and Greg, but I doubt it.

So when a company like Ectomorph comes along, capable of alluding to Gilbert and Sullivan as well as The Sopranos, early cartoons as well as Britney Spears, it inevitably blows everyone else out of the water. But then, when you’ve been around as long as Ectomorph–Jim Kopsian, Bart Heird, and Darren Bodecker formed the troupe seven years ago–you’d better blow everyone away or reconsider your career plans.

Happily, these three pack their show with some of the most original material in Chicago. In one skit they act out a hilarious, complex, utterly wordless soap opera-sex farce while wearing rubber wigs. In another, these three graceful physical comedians imitate with uncanny accuracy the sound and loose-limbed look of early Betty Boop cartoons. Yet Ectomorph is not stuck in Yesterdayland. A chilling but funny sketch involving a badly synchronized animatronic cowboy speaks volumes about the dark, cold side of today’s increasingly mechanized culture.

–Jack Helbig