If Mark Medoff's "Children of a Lesser God" captured your imagination, take time to see the Fairlington Player's production of his powerful drama, "When You Comin Back Red Ryder?"

But be prepared: By no means is "Red Ryder" light and enjoyable. It sets out to shock and disturb the audience, and it succeeds.

The plot focuses on the contamination and damage to human nature brought about by the Vietnam war. Set in a small town in southern New Mexico, the entire play takes place inside a roadside diner.

The eight characters provide a cross section of American life: two New Yorkers, the locals, a cripple, an outcast and Ted the Vietnam veteran.

Ted's madness is at first laughed off or ignored as the patrons try and get on with their meals. Yet, as he continues on his rampage, he chips away at their safe, guarded lives. Ultimately, he crushes their psychological shields and makes them aware of changes in American life caused by the war.

The Fairlington Players give a truly powerful and consistent performance, with Ken Allison as Ted and Willard Hall, who plays Richard from New York, leading the cast. The contrast between these two characters provides the framework from which the rest of the cast draws its energy.

The set is above average, successfully recreating a dingy diner. Perhaps the only flaw are the fluorescent pink walls that seemed unnecessarily bright. The intention may have been to create the feeling of heat. Unfortunately, it provides only visual distraction.

Produced in conjunction with the Arlington Arts Commission, "When You Comin Back Red Ryder?" is superbly directed by Army Col. Ed Lockwood.

"I feel very close to this play," he said last week. "I spent many many years in Vietnam."

"When You Comin Back Red Ryder?" is for mature audiences only. Presented by the Fairlington Players at the Gunston Arts Center, 2700 South Lang St., Arlington. Friday, Saturday, Feb. 11, 12, 18 and 19 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 13 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets: $4.50 for adults, $3.50 for seniors, military and students. For more information, call 354-3851.

Other Events:

* Falls Church Players present "The Butler Did It." A murder mystery. At George Mason High School, 7124 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church. Feb. 18, 19, 25, 26 at 8 p.m. Tickets: $4 adults, $3 seniors and children. For more information, call 532-9474 or 532-1287.

* The Arlington Players present "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Feb. 11, 12, 18, 19, 25 and 26 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 20 at 2:30 p.m. Thomas Jefferson Community Theater, 125 Old Glebe Rd., Arlington. Tickets: $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 students. For more information, call 750-0888.

* McLean Center Theater presents "6 Rms Riv Vu," a comedy. Feb. 25, 26, 27 and March 4, 5, 6. Evenings at 8 p.m. Matinees 3 p.m. 1236 Ingleside Ave., McLean. For more information, call 521-3680 or 827-0360.