One can only be moved by Greek classics. "The Oresteia" of Aeschylus is the greatest work of the earliest-known dramatist - a prize winner more than 2,400 years ago. The Hartke Theater production, ending Feb. 13, is not to be missed.

Never are the great Greeks irrelevant. Here, while Americans rehash capital punishment, we have the timeless subject of social justice. Crimes are committed. How are they to be avenged? Are all social relations determined by blood relationships? Is homicide justified?

Outriged by her husband's sacrifice of their daughter, Clytemnestra kills Agamemnon.Avenging of his father, Orestes murders his mother's lover and, after hesitations, his mother, Clytemnestra, as well. The conflict is between the Furies and the god Apollo and between the Fates and almighty Zeus.

Wise Athena calls for mediation, a vote by the citizens of Athens and agreement by the Furies that they will join her harmonic design.

This, by an aristocratic playwright who had fought at Marathon and Salamis, was the first democratic statement of drama. The violence is the more chilling because it is not shown; the imagination can carry us deeper than any television screen. The awesome reminder that social justice and the democratic ideal go back to written work of 458 B.C. shows what is missed by scoffing at the past as irrelevant.

Leo Brady's supremely lucid, perceptively distilled adaptation was revealed on the Catholic University stage 21 years ago; later his longtime colleague, Walter Kerr, presented it on TV's quality Omnibus. Under Brady's direction, the university players are more effective than they been in too long.

Brady has not lost the strikingly human qualities that quickened Aeschylus, who wrote so beautifully of women. It is vital that Clytemnestra be seen with sympathy, that Cassandra be pitiful, that Electra be more than a symbol of veneance. Kate Van Burek, Debra Cerruti and Mary Woods play the old roles with assured clarity, and the chorus work has a glimmer of the tradition established by CU's master vocal coach, Josephine McGarry Callan, now an observer in her 90s'.

The welcome surprise is the Orestes of Christopher Clark. With admirable presence, emotional freedom and compelling diction, Clark has developed into the most promising player CU has had in some years. While wider vocal range must be pursued, Clark is a young actor to watch and encourage.

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