Born Joan Ruth McClelland, she became involved with theatre in high school and soon after graduating joined the Saskatoon Community Players. After moving to Calgary to work in a radio station, she joined Betty Mitchell's amateur theatre, Workshop 14; for her role as Anne Boleyn in Maxwell Anderson's Anne of the Thousand Days in the Dominion Drama Festival in 1957 she won a scholarship to study acting at the Pasadena Playhouse in California. She then moved to New York, where she met and married physicist Alexander Glass in 1959. They divorced in 1976.
She began writing as a young mother of three children, but it was not until 1972 that her one-act plays Canadian Gothic and American Modern were premiered at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York, directed by Austin Pendleton. The Canadian premiere was at the Pleiades Theatre in Calgary, directed by Ken Dyba. As with many of her later plays, Canadian Gothic is based on memories of her childhood in Saskatchewan, portraying the emotionally debilitating consequences of living in a harsh Canadian environment. Canadian Gothic was adapted for radio by the CBC in 1974 and by the BBC in 1983, and it remains one of Glass's most produced plays.
Artichoke, her comedy starring Colleen DEWHURST, premiered at the Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, in 1975, and played at the TARRAGON THEATRE, Toronto, in 1976. It was well received across Canada as a distinctively Canadian play, evoking graphic images of the Prairies during the Depression.
To Grandmother's House We Go was first produced in Houston, and moved to New York in 1980; its portrait of intergenerational conflict takes an ironic twist when the mother rejects her grown family's dependency on her after the death of the grandmother during a Thanksgiving reunion.
Play Memory (1983) returns to the gothic landscape of rural Saskatchewan during the Depression, portraying an abusive father's attempt to control his wife and daughter. It was produced on Broadway, directed by Harold Prince, and received a Tony nomination. Its Canadian premiere was at the 25th STREET THEATRE in Saskatoon in 1986.
If We Are Women, which takes its title from Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own ("We think back through our mothers, if we are women"), premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts in 1993, and has played across Canada in a co-production of the VANCOUVER PLAYHOUSE and CANADIAN STAGE, and at the CENTAUR THEATRE in Montréal, THEATRE CALGARY, and the CITADEL THEATRE in Edmonton. In England it was directed by Richard Olivier and starred Joan Plowright. It too is autobiographical, tracing the relationship between a writer characterized as "in her early forties, confessional, but always in a fragile, wistful, slightly humorous way, rather than self-pitying," her illiterate mother from Saskatchewan, her intellectually sophisticated mother-in-law, and her rebellious teenage daughter.
Glass wrote the comedy Yesteryear while playwright-in-residence at Centrestage in Toronto; it premiered at the St Lawrence Centre in 1989, and was remounted at the BLYTH FESTIVAL in 1998 and the Canadian Stage Company in 1989. In Yesteryear Glass depicts a happy, fictionalized version of the Saskatoon of her childhood; it is set in 1948 when the province had voted in a CCF government. The male protagonist wins a lottery and gets a second chance at a relationship and at a reformative political vocation.
Trying (2004) premiered in New York, and has played in many theatres across Canada and the US, including Chicago, Ottawa and Toronto. Set in 1967, it is based on Glass's working relationship as a young Canadian from the Prairies with Francis Biddle, attorney general under former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt and a judge during the Nuremberg trials. The play is set during the last year of his life, when he is coming to terms with his death and his legacy, but the focus is on his secretary's growing resolution to become a writer and transcend the limitations of her heredity and environment. The intersection of American and Canadian perspectives, and of youth and age, informs many of Glass's plays.
Palmer Park premiered in the Studio Theatre at the STRATFORD SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL in 2008. It dramatizes the dissolution of a friendship between a black and a white family striving for an integrated educational environment after the race riots in Detroit in 1967, and is based on the playwright's own experience while living in that city in the late 1960s.
In 2010 her play Mrs Dexter and Her Daily premiered at the NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE. It comprises 2 monologues: one by a feisty senior whose husband has recently left her for a neighbour, and the other by her equally feisty housekeeper.
Glass has also written two novels: Reflections on a Mountain Summer (Knopf, 1975) and Woman Wanted (St Martin's, 1984), both of which she has adapted as screenplays for Lorimer Studios and Warner Brothers.
She has received a Rockefeller grant, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her papers are archived in the Special Collections, University of Calgary Library.
Author ANNE NOTHOF
Links to Other Sites
A synopsis of Joanna Glass's play “Trying.” From the website for "Playbill."
Biocritical Essay: Joanna M. Glass
An analytical essay focusing on the works of Canadian-born playwright and novelist Joanna M. Glass. From Special Collections, the University of Calgary Library.