Is he happy with what is going on? Can you explain?
If the director is happy with lights up and lights down and does not want more--get a crossword puzzle or a book...
Otherwise--you have to talk with him to find out what he wants (tho I am guessing you have already done that). If so--what did he say..?
Some directors are quirky--they don't care for artsy looks or lots of cues or changes happening around the actors--they are more focused and only care about whats happening with the actors and that they are acting...and when you have a director who wants that--then you do what you do and it is what it is. Not every show is gonna be a challenge....
i'd suggest try somethin, maybe some nice slow fades where appropriate in a rehearsal, then if the director doesn't notice, point out that you've made changes and do they like them, or if they do notice ask them if it felt right, and maybe explain your reasoniings.
As much as we all want to belive that light makes or breaks a show it doesnt. It is a colabrative process that involves all areas of the design and productino team. and as much as we bash actors they are the ones who carry the show. great lighting isnt going to save the show if no one can act. if the shows boring now its going to be boring with more light cues so you just have to figure out that every show wont be a winner and you just have to let go of it.
if it really is lights up and lights out, then have the director fade them in and our herself. Then you can go do something more productive and useful for your time. You can preset all the light faders and all she has to touch is the grand master.
Working with my director, I've found out that often its better to just try things or do things than to ask her opinion. If she likes what I've done, good, if not, then I'll change it, but if I ask, often times she'll tell me to not bother, but when I do it anyways, she really likes it. Little things, like, I brought in a window box and some fake flowers to put behind a window. I didn't ask her, but she loved the added touch! She told me to not worry about a toilet, but a techie had one lying around, so he brough it in and we ended up keeping it in there (it was a scene with a bathroom). I've worked with her alot though, so I know some things just wouldn't work, and some things will.
But yeah, for kicks and giggles, memorize the entire script and mouth every line. You could do homework. You could work on other shows if you can, like, you could clean out or reorganize things because they are messy. Vacuum the carpet or mop the floor. House cleaning type stuff to make the venue look better. most of that only works during rehearsal though....
I can remember this past summer... I ran a board for a show I didn't design. I was actaully running lights and shound. The director designed it... well... then i kinda redesigned his design as far as the programaming goes, but I didn't mess with the focus... anyway... This was a down right horrible show. The actors would forget their lines and skip entire sections of dialouge in the script...
The only way I survived that show was each night there was somebody different in the booth with me to joke around with. Never missed a cue... but just had some fun back there.
Now, as far as a director that doesn't like your ideas but can't describe what she wants... well... you can 1) just leave it how it is, or 2) show her your ideas, don't just tell her. And since she can't really describe what she's looking for show her a few different things. If she doens't understand lighting then she's not gonna understand someone just telling her something... its best to show her.
We recently had a show that had much the same problem. Basically it was a show with no specials or anything and we wanted to make it just a bit more interesting. Pretty much the only think we could do was to look at is as a way to try new placement for a lot of lights. I guess you could look at it as just a chance to try out say new gobos and gels and angles if there are places that you don't normally try to put stuff. The audience might not notice much of the difference but at least you can try some stuff.
It sounds like you just need one look for the show, so concentrate on making that one look really good. Focus on shadows and textures, and depth. I don't want to say over analyzie... but think about things you don't always have time to take into consideration.
Designing pretty much 4 generic comedies/straight plays every year at a local rep theater, I usually take this approach:
-Have good preset (consider having the main out when people come in), in this preset hang furniture specials, a nice colorful wash, some breakups, and if there is a window, throw in a window gobo.
-For the show itself I pretty much always have to do full stage lights. But for times wehn the action shifts to one area, do a nice slow 15 second shift and then restore when the action resumes
-Also try to have an interesting cue for the very end of each act. In the shows that I desgn, it usually ties in with the music that starts just before the lights go dark for intermission.