Inventing Country: The Chalks Create Their Own Legend



By Vee Benard

“The Chalks,” a folk-singing sister act featuring on-stage ‘siblings’ Judeen, Judelle and Belva Chalk, is hitting the Hamptons once again. Following their East End debut at the Bay Street Theatre last February, the country singing group is making appearances at the Parrish Art Museum over the next two weeks.

The Chalks, brainchild of Mary Brienza (“Judeen”) and Kathryn Markey (“Judelle”), came to life in the early 1990s, when an early incarnation of the group received a warm reception at a sketch comedy club.

“Mary and I and some other folks started writing together about fifteen years ago,” said Markey, “and one of the kernels of inspiration we had was the idea for a sister group. We started writing for [The Chalks], a song here and a song there, and it blossomed and bloomed. Soon it became a club act and we started just doing entire evenings of just The Chalks.”

“Audiences really responded to these characters,” added Brienza, “they really resonated with people.”

Five years ago, with the addition of their third partner, Leenya Rideout (“Belva”), the group took a new turn.

 “The color of the group has changed,” explained Markey, “it’s more musical now.”

Together, Brienza, Markey and Rideout have charmed audiences in New York and its surrounding area with their sisterly antics, country hits and political humor.

“Our fans,” chuckled Markey, “are usually people with a very wry sense of humor. Our jokes are pretty high brow, and we make lots of political and pop culture references.”

“It’s pretty smart-alecky comedy,” said Brienza, “we try not to be too precious…or too heartwarming.”

Brienza, who plays “Judeen,” the oldest of the three Chalk sisters (each born nine months after the other), puts forth the persona of the group’s matriarch in The Chalks’ performances. The business manager of the group, “Judeen” is a tough, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer character who drives and holds the group together.

 “’Judeen’ is the oldest of the three, the business mind,” said Brienza, “she’s the ‘boss girl,’ the big boss.”

Markey’s “Judelle” is the middle child, and is emotional and gritty (and a recovering alcoholic). “Judelle” is described by Markey as “the archetypal alcoholic country music star.”

“Belva,” played by Rideout, is the youngest sister, charming, carefree and, of course, the heartbreaker.

“Belva also believes she’s been abducted by aliens,” quipped Markey, “so it’s safe to say that all three of them have their quirks.”

It is the manner in which The Chalks so ingeniously blur reality and fiction that makes them such a powerful group with fascinating, indelible characters. The three Chalk sisters squabble and bicker, blame each other for their family problems and never forget to make sure the audience has a good time watching.

“When we perform as The Chalks,” said Brienza, “we have to separate what is fact from fiction.”

So, one might ask, what is fact, and what is fiction?

Brienza, Markey and Rideout are three musicians, not sisters, whose country music band has performed all over New York City. Their alter-egos, however, are three down-on-their luck, once A-listers, now C-listers, who are trying to make their comeback. ?

“They have traveled the world…played for heads of state…troops overseas…,” said Brienza, “there is no state, no corner of the country they haven’t visited.”

“We as an act have done a lot of things,” Brienza continued, “but we as The Chalks have done so much more.”

“The Chalk sisters have been together since they were little bitty kids,” she added, “but now, as time has passed, they are on different points of the star ladder.”

The upcoming performances at Bay Street @ the Parrish are a continuation of the Chalk family history. The story (fiction) is that the three sisters came out to Southampton three months ago for a performance, which, partially as a result of Judelle’s alcoholic tendencies, ended in calamity. As punishment for their hi-jinks, the three sisters have been on “bus-arrest” (they don’t have a house, only a tour bus) for the past 90 days. Their performance is a community-service show for them to make amends for their mischief and to fulfill their contractual obligations.

“People come to our shows,” said Markey, “and if they didn’t know us before they came, they are devoted fans once they leave.”

The 90-minute show, which will consist of song, dance and snarky banter, will conclude with a meet-and-greet with the three sisters at the exit, true to the country music tradition, during which the aforementioned fans, both old and new, can have a chance to talk to these strong, beautiful, all-American sisters.

The Chalks will perform at the Parrish Art Museum, 20 Jobs Lane, Southampton, as part of the Bay Street Theatre @ The Parrish Series. The trio will perform on August 27 and August 28 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35. Call 725-9500 or visit