David Hare's ``A Map of the World,'' at the Public/Newman Theater, mingles a clash of ideologies, sex, global politics, and a film-within-a-play. The provocative 1982 work by the author of ``Plenty'' takes place ``in Bombay, India, in 1978, and in the present.'' The ``present'' apparently refers to the film studio near London where the movie about a UNESCO conference on poverty is being shot. Although the transitions between Bombay and England can be puzzling, the thrust of this British comedy is clear enough. The title derives from a passage in Oscar Wilde's ``The Soul of Man Under Socialism,'' which reads: ``A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.''
Victor Mehta (Roshan Seth), the fastidious, disdainful right-wing novelist of the scenario, puts it another way. Near the end of the play, moved by the tragic death of his idealistic young challenger, Mehta says: ``This feeling, finally, that we may change things -- this is the center of everything we are. Lose that . . . lose that, lose everything.''
As ``A Map of the World'' begins, it soon becomes clear that the UNESCO conference is heading for a crisis. Because of the satirical derision with which he has written about Marxism and third-world countries, Mehta, the star speaker, is being asked to precede his talk with a kind of disclaimer acknowledging the unreliability of the novelist as historian. Though outraged, Mehta is almost ready to compromise until he learns that the dogmatic young socialist journalist, Stephen Andrews (Z^eliko Ivanek), wi th whom he has already crossed swords, has helped write the conciliatory statement.
Peggy Whitton (Elizabeth McGovern), an American actress with whom Mehta has spent the night, proposes a debate between the Indian and the Englishman to determine whether or not Mehta will make his conference appearance. She also offers her favors to the winner. The two men accept, opening the way for a brilliantly written verbal duel that becomes the play's centerpiece.
Meanwhile, ``A Map of the World'' ranges over the wide agenda of incongruities and paradoxes of a conference on poverty held in a luxury hotel surrounded by direst want. The plight of developing nations is expressed by Senegalese delegate M'Bengue (Ving Rhames), in a movingly written and delivered speech. While making sport of the programmed conference mentality (however lofty the purpose), Mr. Hare acknowledges those elements of idealism that somehow inform such an assemblage. His cerebral satire is to uched with humanity.
The playwright has staged a performance that (to borrow a musical term) is always at concert pitch. Mr. Seth, who played Nehru in the film ``Gandhi'' and who created the role of Mehta, wears his British-acquired superiority as one to the manner born. Miss McGovern is a thoroughly fetching Peggy, and Mr. Ivanek endows the naive and intemperate Stephen with burning reformist passion. Alfre Wood's CBS correspondent, Richard Venture's worried conference organizer, and Joseph Hindy's beleaguered movie direct or complete the principal roles in a production that relies on many well-played incidental characters.
Hayden Griffin's scenic concept begins and ends with a huge, densely populated panorama of India, which disappears as the moviemakers create the succession of interiors in which the confrontations occur. The visually superb production has been lighted by Rory Dempster and costumed by Jane Greenwood, with incidental music by Nick Bic^at.