In 1929 the Soviet government initiated a rural collectivization program in
Ukraine, confiscating privately held farms and turning the farmers into
state workers. The results were disastrous. By 1932, people were starving
by the millions. Cannibalism was a big enough problem that posters were
reportedly printed reminding people that “to eat your own children is a
barbarian act.”

Some argue that this catastrophe, known now as the Holodomor, wasn’t a
bureaucratic failure but a sinister success—an act of genocide designed to
wreck Ukrainian hopes for independence.

Abbey Fenbert’s new play, Sickle, attempts to engage the Holodomor
at an intimate level by focusing on a single Ukrainian farming village. The
crisis is upon us from the start. The men have been deported as class
traitors for resisting collectivization; the women maintain discipline as
best they can, guarding the land, foraging for food, rationing scraps while
attempting not to die or go mad. Into their midst comes Nadya, a
fresh-faced member of the Young Communist League, tasked with seeing to it
that the party line is toed even if it kills every last villager.

In an ideal world Sickle might be about Nadya’s struggle to
reconcile her ideological purity with the dire circumstances she finds on
what we’d now call “the ground.” Fenbert certainly seems interested in that
aspect of things. But her script is too diffuse—and too in love with the
poetry of the Ukrainian women’s black humor—to develop that theme with any
force or clarity. Elizabeth Lovelady’s Red Theater staging doesn’t
compensate either. And so the Holodomor remains an abstraction when the job
was to render it horrifyingly concrete.   v