Language of Angels, Gift Theatre Company, at Victory Gardens Theater. Naomi Iizuka’s 2000 play, now receiving its midwest premiere under Michael Patrick Thornton’s superb direction, at times feels like a backwoods version of Jim Carroll’s punk litany about doomed friends, “People Who Died.” After Celie (Carrie Layne), an ethereal teenage girl, disappears in a North Carolina cave, tragedy visits each of the friends there that night–over the years they’re plagued by violence, drug addiction, and accidental death. Keeping track of all the offstage characters can be confusing, but Iizuka has a gift for blending mortal losses with the darker strains of mystery and mythology (also ably demonstrated in her Polaroid Stories). That gift holds up well over the three long scenes interspersed with monologues that make up this 85-minute play.

The acting is some of the richest I’ve seen all year, particularly in the chilling final scene between the sinister JB (John Gawlik) and recovering speed freak Danielle (Lynda Newton). Their mesmerizing game of cat and mouse brings Iizuka’s themes of guilt and redemption full circle. The entire ensemble is well cast, but Paul D’Addario as Celie’s emotionally damaged boyfriend and Brendan Donaldson as a rage-aholic deliver especially thoughtful, richly detailed performances. Heather Gilbert’s imaginative lighting design adds emotional heft to Iizuka’s shadowy, mournful scenario.