Lady Dicks and Lesbian Brothers

Staging the Unimaginable at the WOW Café Theatre
Kate Davy
Parody, cross-dressing, zany comedy, and unbridled eroticism at a women's theater space in the East Village


Out of a small, hand-to-mouth women's theater collective called the WOW Café located on the lower east side of Manhattan there emerged some of the most important theater troupes and performance artists of the 1980s and 1990s. Appearing on the cultural scene at a critical turning point in both the women's movement and feminist theory, WOW put a witty, hilarious, gender-bending, and erotically charged aesthetic on stage for women in general and lesbians in particular. Featured performers included the Split Britches Company, the Five Lesbian Brothers, Carmelita Tropicana, Holly Hughes, Lisa Kron, Deb Margolin, Reno, Peggy Shaw, and Lois Weaver. For three decades the WOW Café Theatre has nurtured fledgling women writers, designers, and performers who continue to create important performance work. Lady Dicks and Lesbian Brothers offers the first critical history of the WOW Café, based on dozens of interviews with WOW performers and other participants, newspaper reviews of the earliest productions, and unpublished photographs, and suggests why the collective has had such amazing longevity and an enduring legacy.

"A rich and detailed picture of a particular historical moment that has now passed . . . Davy's longstanding association with this world pays off handsomely—it is impossible to imagine that anyone could write a more informative portrait."
—Charlotte Canning, University of Texas at Austin

Kate Davy is Provost at the University of Michigan, Dearborn. Her previous books include Richard Foreman: Plays and Manifestos and Richard Foreman and the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre.

Praise / Awards

  • "Davy uses first-person insights, interviews with WOW members, and archival records, however scant, to position WOW Cafe Theatre within an ever-shifting context of US cultural production. At the same time, she works to recoup the theater's reputation from the slippages of collective memory."
    Choice (Highly Recommended)

  • "...Lady Dicks and Lesbian Brothers fills an urgent need in theater history, gender studies, and lesbian history, and it does so with substance and style."
    —Robin Bernstein, Women's Review of Books

  • "Davy does a remarkable job of recuperating for her readers a history of WOW that offers not only many details and dates (which are valuable because WOW's record-keeping has been minimal and sporadic), but also a sense of the energy and excitement that WOW generated."
    Critical Quarterly

  • " a remarkable scholarly achievement, one that addresses egregious omissions in the historical record and charts an alternative genealogy of feminism and its relationship to queer theory by tracing the impulses, desires, influences, and exigencies that conspired to make the WOW Cafe an artistic possibility and a material reality." 
    —Sara Warner, Theatre Survey
  • "From Hughes's The Lady Dick to the performances of The Five Lesbian Brothers, WOW Cafe Theatre has offered such a space, and Davy's impeccably researched and well-argued book is a testimony to the ongoing fascination of, and the important cultural contributions made by, feminist, lesbian, and queer performers in the United States." 
    —Dirk Gindt, Theatre Journal
  • Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) Outstanding Book Award 2011, Honorable Mention

Look Inside

Copyright © 2010, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Interview on WNYC radio | November 2010

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 264pp.
  • 11 B&W photographs and 1 drawing.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2011
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05122-9

Add to Cart
  • $28.95 U.S.



  • WOW Café Theatre, women's theater, women's festivals, women's performance art, lesbian theater and performance, feminist art, Feminist theater, Feminist performance, queer theater and performance theory, East Village performance, Race and whiteness, Gender and sexuality, feminist critical theory, feminist collectives and co-ops, Holly Hughes, Carmelita Tropicana, Split Britches, Five Lesbian, Brothers, Lisa Kron