The audience, mostly Spanish-speaking, jumped to its feet with loud applause and cheers Saturday night in the Terrace Theater at the conclusion of the Chilean play "How Many Years In A Day . . .?" that takes some funny and not-so-subtle jabs at the nation's dictatorial military regime.

The play-performed in Spanish by Grupo Ictus, a professional theater group from Santiago, as part of the Kennedy Center's Theatre in the Americas Festival, which concludes tonight - concerns the difficulties seven television reporters face in carrying on their profession in today's Chile. They reflect on a variety of subjects including the transient nature of governments in Latin America.

The setting is a broadcast studio where six of the seven are gathered to tape an annual discussion program. The absent journalist, Anna Maria Montoya, apparently has been fired for political reasons. The others are summoned to the front office during the taping and chastized for their long hair and shoddy appearance and for swearing that has caught the attention of the "Internal Health Committee."

A petition defending Montoya is circulated containing the reference to "human rights," a politically sensitive subject for a government accused of repression. Should it be signed? Should the others resign? Should the taping go on?

One reluctant signer proceeds to cross out all the sensitive words in the petition and ends up only with a greeting and the signatures themselves.

The play concludes with expressions of hope for Chile's future and the reporters' decision to continue doing what they can for that future in spite of the difficulties of the present.

Certainly it is these sentiments that brought the crowd to its feet. The play, as a vehicle for these sentiments however, is weak. It is more a series of debates between stick figures, and there is only a hint of the human suffering that oppression brings.

"How Many Years" was "collectively" written (four credits) and directed (three credits). Generally, it was well acted, particularly in the comic exchanges, though occasionally a performer smirked gleefully out of character when a barb at the expense of the government drew a loud laugh from the audience. "How Many Years" was to be repeated twice yesterday.