AIN’T NO PARTY like a Scranton party. The hottest ticket in town this week before Christmas isn’t for the Ballet Theatre’s production of The Nutcracker. It’s not for the opening of the latest blockbuster at the Marquee theater, across Lackawanna Avenue from the Mall at Steamtown.
People here in the real-life town that serves as the fictional setting of the highly rated and Emmy-winning NBC prime-time comedy The Office — they want to see Dwight Schrute.
Okay, this whole thing is going to be a swirling confusion of fantasy and reality, so let’s get a little background. The Office is set in the Scranton branch of a paper-supply company called Dunder-Mifflin, where a dunderhead regional manager named Michael Scott (played by surging star Steve Carell) beleaguers his bored, disgruntled employees with a mix of clueless egotism and always-off-the-mark humor. Dwight Schrute is the toadying assistant regional manager (though the title exists only in his mind), and Rainn Wilson is the actor who in over 40 episodes of The Office has brought the intense, obtuse, socially challenged Dwight to vivid life.
Today, after much ballyhoo and buildup, Wilson has arrived in the real hometown of the fictional Office. And though there are just six shopping days until Christmas, the actor is not only bigger than Santa Claus — he’s going to boot him from his chair at the downtown mall.
Enticed by a fee rumored to be $30,000, Wilson flew in from the West Coast, took a cab from the airport last night, and checked quietly into the Radisson hotel, in what was once the city’s grand old train station. This morning, he’s a man besieged.
First, there’s the “press opportunity” just off the hotel lobby, at which the actor is rushed not just by the local media — everybody from wannabe-hip weekly Electric City to WBRE Channel 28 — but by a fair number of the town’s politicians, their small-town values on display in the form of gaggles of their kids (and their kids’ friends) who want autographs. The actor accepts it all with aplomb. After he’s gone, Scrantonians will trip over themselves telling you how nice their TV star was.