In ancient times, Archaesus was a fabled Athenian performing troupe that won freedom from the emperor of Rome through the magic of its performances.

Today's Archaesus, based in the Washington area, is a theater ensemble of versatile young players that offers audiences a modern brand of magic -- mixing mime, music and gymnastics with comedy.

Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., Archaesus will appear for the first time at the Publick Playhouse in Bladensburg. The troupe will present-"Twilight: You're Only as Safe as You Think You Are," a full-length theater piece that takes a look at America's cities.

Archaesus is the brainchild of 34-year-old Gary Young, a third-generation Washingtonian who made his acting debut at the age of 2 in the role of Humpty Dumpty.

Unlike Humpty Dumpty, Young managed to get it all together again after falling into various experiences over the years as actor, producer, director, manager and writer, both here and in New York.

He started Archaesus in 1973. It was one of the first companies in the area strongly committed to bringing theater to children, the handicapped and the elderly.

The Publick Playhouse appearance represents a major effort on Archaesus' part to reach adult audiences and move into the theatrical mainstream. Young also has plans for intensified touring schedules, perhaps including a European circuit.

Archaesus has matured on tours of colleges and schools along the East Coast and as far west as Idaho. In 1978, the company performed at the International Festival of the Child in Yugoslavia, the first U.S. group ever asked to participate.

The company has expanded from its original five members to nine. Last year a second company was sponsored by the federal Comprehensive Employment Training Act CETA).The budget, which includes grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, HEW and the Cafritz Foundation, is expected to reach $180,000 this year, according to Young.

Tickets for this weekend's performances by Archaesus are available at the Publick Playhouse box office, which can be reached at 277-1710.