If nothing else, the five players of Skits-O-Phrenic believe they created a new form of comedy.

The troupe has taken the classic commedia dell'arte, a 16th-century Italian style of comedy, and combined it with the American television phenomenon, the sitcom. In commedia, as in sitcoms, there was a stock group of characters. "Everybody knew them," says Skits-O-Phrenic comic Mario Baldessari, "because the actors would travel all over Italy and perform. Everybody knew how they acted.

"And," he says, "everyone now knows the sitcom."

Based on the sitcom's "having a problem and solving it" premise, the troupe has worked out a pretty clever situation: The characters are struggling actors in a small theater troupe. They ask the audience for a problem, and then they come up with a 10-minute skit addressing it.

"It's a real spoof of our own doings," says Baldessari.

Skits-O-Phrenic approaches comedy differently than any other comedy or improv group in Washington. Imagine this: They don't do political humor. "We don't do current events, either," says Baldessari. "That way, our material isn't dated."

They don't do all that much improvisation, either.

"With improv, I always get the feeling that you get great snacks, but once in a while you want a great meal," he says. "In shows sometimes you really want to know when you open and when you close. With improv, you never really know how your scene is going to go."

But don't worry. They most certainly do silly things. Such as dress up as cows.

It's called Moo Struck, and they walk around stage chewing on hay.

"It's about a couple who enters a restaurant run by cattle, and the shenanigans that ensue after that," explains Baldessari. "It even has a dance of the cows."

Skits-O-Phrenic performs every Saturday night at 8 at Square One Theater, next to the Georgetown Lutheran Church, Wisconsin Avenue and Q Street NW. Tickets are $10 and available at the door. For information, call 829-0529.