Interview: Robert Ascencio of WATER BY THE SPOONFUL at The Eagle Theatre

The play, which deals with addiction and PTSD, has a special Veteran's Performance on May 14.

By: May. 08, 2023
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Interview: Robert Ascencio of WATER BY THE SPOONFUL at The Eagle Theatre

When hearing Robert Asencio describe his role in The Eagle Theater's production of Quiara Algeria Hudes' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, "Water By the Spoonful" (directed by Ang Bey) as Elliot Ortiz, a wounded marine who returned to his stomping ground in North Philadelphia from the war in Iraq and lives with the stress of the death of his adoptive mother, recovering crack addict mother Odessa (Janeena Pinero-Deniz) bouts of PTSD and an opioid addiction that he keeps under his hat, I can't help but to think of Eminem's "Like Toy Soldiers:"

"I'm supposed to be the soldier who never blows his composure/ Even though I hold the weight of the whole world on my shoulders/I ain't never supposed to show it/My crew ain't supposed to know it..."

Like the average male, showing vulnerability is a threat to their machismo. Thus, any sign of weakness can feel humiliating, causing Ortiz to instead keep his pain bottled up inside. The role of Ortiz is an ode to Hudes' cousin, a marine veteran who served in the Iraqi war and struggled with moving forward in his life. In the play- set in both the virtual and physical world in Philadelphia, Japan, and Puerto Rico- Ortiz returns to his native east coast, but has dreams of the big screen as a Hollywood actor. His struggles shadowboxing with his own hallucinatory ghost (Jerrod Ganesh) further muddle his return to normalcy. Meanwhile, he seeks refuge in a cyber community of recovering addicts who attempt to guide Ortiz through his personal journey to sobriety, but the activity only enforces the challenges of fostering IRL connections.

Asencio, a Newark native, can relate to a lot the feelings expressed in his character and finds the play therapeutic for him as he realizes vulnerability is his greatest strength.

"I never cried until I came to the theater actually it's so interesting I connect with that aspect," he said. "Everyone in my area are talented people but there are few circumstances and opportunities.

Despite him going AWOL from school a few times and misbehaving on occasion, his mother, much like in "Spoonful" never gave up on her son.

"My mother never gave up on me... I gave her so many reasons. I cut school, was sent to a private school..."

Like Ortiz, who he likened to a delicate flower that needed the right soil to thrive, even if it meant taking him out of his hometown, it took him a while to bloom, but his personal struggles were like the concrete he emerged from, with a little perseverance and a little love.

"Elliot tries to find his shield. Lucky for me, art has always been my armor. The love of a mother, someone who supports you, can heal you. His [adoptive] mother tells him, 'No one can make you invisible, but you' as a reminder every day. That's love."

And, apart from the love from his mother and the supportive friendship of his cousin Yaz (Rachel O'Hanlon Rodriguez) self-love, he says, is what keeps the virus of addiction dormant.

"It all starts with acceptance and acknowledging you have a problem," he said. "That's one of the biggest problems of all the other characters: Every day is the first day. You can slip up at any moment. It's a part of your life now."

He continued, "I think every person in this world - regardless of its drugs or cell phones or food - is addicted to something in this world. There are people who can do drugs and do it once and they'll be fine and for some people it will grab a hold of you and won't be able to get loose from its grip. You have to know and acknowledge that and get away from it."

The production will host a Veteran's Performance on Sunday, May 14 at 2pm, with $10 tickets offered for active and Veteran members of the military. Following the performance, production dramaturg, Autumn Blalock, will host a post-show discussion with panelists to be announced at a later date.

For tickets, visit
Interview: Robert Ascencio of WATER BY THE SPOONFUL at The Eagle Theatre


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