With "Indian Love Call," the premiere production of George Mason University's Theatre of the First Amendment, Paul D'Andrea (currently Robinson Professor of Theatre at GMU) seems to have taken his cue from Oscar Wilde. His characters blithely announce their flaws, shift moods with frivolous abandon, and tend toward the epigrammatic ("The quixotic, dear Rufus, has to be full tilt"). One of them, Lorna, is as endearingly bland about her faults as Cecily in "The Importance of Being Earnest." As played by Lorrie Harrison, an adorable white-clad sylph, she's both serious-minded and pixilated: "I'm humorless," she reveals. "Is that all right?" An aspiring -- though awful -- writer, Lorna is cursed with a Wellesley education. When asked what she learned in college, she replies earnestly, "To hate dead white males."

Unfortunately, the play that surrounds Lorna is pretentious and trivial. The characters are wealthy, arty Manhattanites and one bohemian old acquaintance. They have cute names -- Pertelote, Ulysses -- and cute ways. Talking to a plant, for example. Not casually, but to ask advice. Pertelote is whimsically miserable about his name, till he discovers it can be pronounced "partlett" (he never does find out why his parents named him after a hen in Chaucer).

The bohemian old acquaintance, Rufus, shows up after an absence of many years, looking for "India," defined for the audience as "human justice inspired by beauty" and capable of being found right here in the old U.S.A. Rufus is sure of this, even though he's been searching for it unsuccessfully for 25 years. Ulysses, the successful publisher in whose apartment the action takes place, is, of course, empty inside. Jealous of his boyhood friend's freedom, he hopes to thwart him in his quest. Ulysses is married to Brenda, who is meant to be an enchanting sprite and a great painter. Alas, she too is empty: "We sold a lot {of paintings} tonight, but there was no real success? Why?" Meanwhile, Pertelote, a writer, flits in and out saying things like, "I hunger for beauty!" Pretty much all that happens is that the characters argue, paint, dance, sleep, bathe and talk to the plant. You might suspect the plant will play a significant role later, as a revelation seems to be coming. But you would be wrong. Rufus achieves his goal with the aid of a window.

Tim Grundmann, whose nutso musicals many Washington theatergoers recall with pleasure, once had a character assure a playwright: "Audiences love it when you eat on stage." Perhaps D'Andrea got similar advice. The characters in "Indian Love Song" not only eat on stage, they cook on stage and they paint onstage -- two walls of the set, to be precise. All these activities have something of the stunt about them. Maybe the idea is that if we get tired of the action we can watch the paint dry.

The paint is symbolically white, being applied over (also symbolic) brown. The characters rhapsodize about vivid color, and Brenda paints one of her brown canvases white. Actually, Brenda's canvases (painted for the production by William Pollock) are the best pretend-art I've ever seen on a set; they suggest Anselm Kiefer's great, gray abstractions. Does D'Andrea seriously believe -- in the face of Picasso, de Kooning, Pollock and Warhol -- that this wasn't a colorful century for art? And does he know that white walls have been the cliche interior wall color for art collectors since the late '60s? It shows off their acquisitions better.

Probably "Indian Love Call" would be more fun, maybe even a little giddy, if it were directed to be lively, but Thomas Gruenewald can't get things going. The characters don't toss D'Andrea's quips out, they deliver them. The actors, many of whom have done excellent work elsewhere, strain to carry the action lightly along, but they seem lost on the stage.

There's something intensely annoying about watching people who have everything material they could want complain. D'Andrea shows no signs of the irony Chekhov displayed toward his moaners; you're apparently meant to sympathize with their dissatisfaction and search for meaning. Instead you can find yourself thinking that if they're really so discontented with their lives, they can always get jobs.

Indian Love Call, by Paul D'Andrea. Directed by Thomas Gruenewald. Set and lighting, Jeff Guzik; sound, C. Marlo Seyffert; costumes, Lynnie Raybuck. With Kaiulani Lee, Kermit Brown, Doug Stender, Robert Emmet and Lorrie Harrison. At the Theatre of the First Amendment, George Mason University Black Box Theatre, through Feb. 3.